Cool Upcoming Space Events

Stuff that I’m planning to watch for in the upcoming months/years, either through the news or in the sky (this will be updated periodically):

New Horizons Science Chat (Sept. 19, 2018, 1:00pm EDT)

From the NASA Press Release:

Members of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft team will host a Science Chat at 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Sept. 19, on humanity’s farthest planetary flyby, scheduled to occur Jan. 1 when the spacecraft encounters a mysterious object in the Kuiper Belt nicknamed “Ultima Thule.”

The conversation will cover a range of topics, including the preparations, plans and goals for exploring Ultima.

The press release has links to several sites where you can join the chat.

Parker Solar Probe makes flyby of Venus for orbital adjustment (Oct. 3, 2018)

Parker Solar Probe marks first solar perihelion (Nov. 5, 2018, 10:27pm EST)

Mars InSight Lander lands on Mars (Nov. 26, 2018)

Geminids Meteor Shower (Peaks Dec. 13-14, 2018)

Runs from Dec. 7-17. Up to 120 meteors/hr at its peak, with best viewing after moonset (just after midnight).

New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule (Jan. 1, 2019)

Quadrantids Meteor Shower (Peaks Jan. 3-4, 2019)

Runs from Jan. 1-5. Up to 40 meteors/hr at its peak, with best viewing just after midnight.

OSIRIS-REx begins return to Earth with samples from asteroid Bennu (March 2021)

OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth with samples from asteroid Bennu (Sept. 2023)

Parker Solar Probe makes closest approach to Sun (???, 2024)

The seventh solar flyby is expected to pass only 3.83 million miles from the surface of the Sun.

Information sources:
Sea and Sky Astronomy Calendar
NASA Calendar and Missions list

Posted in Science, Space and Astronomy | Leave a comment

The Antarctic “Castle”

Recently I ran across several YouTube videos talking about a formation in Antarctica that people claim looks like the walls of a motte-and-bailey castle, and some push it as evidence for pre-modern habitation of the Antarctic continent. The formation – a double-walled oval shape about 120m wide by 175m long – can be seen in Google Earth or Google Maps satellite view at 66°17’10.6″S, 100°29’8.5″E.


Now, I haven’t been all that impressed with the videos I’ve watched to date. Most of them basically boil down to showing the picture, saying “See! It looks like a castle!”, and spinning that into anywhere from 5-20 minutes of fluff. The blog articles haven’t been any better. Some bring in another formation called the Antarctic “Pyramid” as bolstering the claim of human origin – never mind that the “pyramid” is about 4500km away from the “castle” formation, and to my eye is clearly just a natural rock formation anyway:


Just to confuse things, there is another formation called “The Pyramid” that was discovered by the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913, and is in a completely different place – but still 2335 km away, and still obviously a natural formation:


But the main reason I’m unimpressed is that there are a couple of facts about the area near the “castle” formation that you would think proponents of the human origin theory would want to point out – but absolutely none of the stories or videos I’ve seen have pointed these facts out. So let’s fill in a couple of those gaps.

First, if the “castle” were located in an area which was pretty much ice-free year-round and had large areas of standing water – in other words, was about as hospitable for human life as you’re likely to find in Antarctica – don’t you think they’d want to mention that? But in fact, that’s precisely where it is. The formation is located at the southwest edge of an area called the Bunger Hills or Bunger Oasis, which is not only relatively ice-free throughout the year but also has numerous melt ponds and even a fairly large lake.

The “castle” formation is indicated by the “C” marker

Second, the conspiracy theorists among the human-origin proponents love to claim that world governments know about the “true nature” of this artifact (among others) but are covering it up. So you’d think they’d be eager to point it out if there was a research station located right next door, wouldn’t you? How better to investigate something while covering up what you find?

In fact, there are three stations in the Bunger Hills, though none are currently operational. In 1956, the Soviet Union opened the “Oazis” station which they operated until 1959, at which point it was turned over to Poland and renamed the “Dobrowolski” station. Poland operated it for a few more weeks, briefly reopened it in 1979, and officially closed it in 1998. Immediately adjacent to it is the Soviet/Russian “Oazis-2” station which operated from the late 1980s to mid 1990s. A few buildings and a couple of historical pillars remain from the two stations, which are located about 11.8 km ENE of the “castle” formation.

“D” marks Dobrowolski Station, “O” marks Oazis-2 Station. The shore of Lake Figurnoye, the largest lake in the Bunger Hills, is visible at the bottom.

Even closer – a mere 6.6 km NE of the formation – is the Australian “Edgeworth David” summer base, which was in operation from 1986-2006. A few small huts remain.

“E” marks the four huts of the Edgeworth David Base. A melt pond is visible to the southeast.

Here is the map of the Bunger Hills with all three bases and the “castle” formation marked:


The closest active research stations are the Australian “Casey” station 448 km to the east, and the Russian “Mirny” station 333 km to the west. And, while a number of videos and bloggers have tried to tie this formation to Antarctic visits by various prominent personages, those visits were even farther away from the formation. Among them were former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (visited McMurdo Station, 2410 km away), astronaut Buzz Aldrin (visited the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, 2635 km away), King Juan Carlos of Spain (visited Spain’s two research stations, 5557 km and 5589 km away), and Kirill III, Patriarch of Moscow (visited Russia’s Bellingshausen Station, 5627 km away – almost as far from the formation as you can get and still be in Antarctica).

The kicker, or course, is that while this formation gets attention due to its particular shape and size, it is by no means the only formation like this in the Antarctic. About 40 km SW is another oval-shaped formation of similar size (170m diameter), surrounded by a similar-style meandering formation (you can see part of it on the right edge):


Just 3.8 km SSE is another, much larger (2.2 km long) formation of the same type which contains several smaller ones:


Here’s another smaller (just over 200m wide), not so precise one 22.8 km to the north:


That one also has a large, meandering formation of the same style just a few hundred meters west of it. And finally, just to show they’re not all in the Bunger Hills, here’s a huge formation on the western side of the Amery Ice Shelf, 1360 km away. The oval formation shown is over 1.8 km long, and the eastern “wall” that trails down to the south continues for at least 16 km:


It seems that these formations may be a type of sastrugi – grooves or ridges formed on a snow surface by wind erosion and deposition. While sastrugi normally form in rough lines parallel to the prevailing winds, the surrounding hills may affect the formation of these ridges causing them to curve around and occasionally form closed ovals. But whether they are sastrugi or something else, they seem to be nothing more than natural formations.

Posted in Google Maps, Oddities | Leave a comment

Top spam sources

Currently my family gets somewhere between 6000-9000 spam emails per week, most of it addressed to three of my email addresses and two of my kids’ emails. Since I manage my own email (through the webhost for another personal website), I’ve put together filters to replace the built-in spam blocking system (which either lets too much spam through, or catches too much legitimate email). I save incoming spam to help me improve my filters, and currently have around 230,000 spam emails saved off.

Recently, while working on the IP filters, I got curious as to which IP addresses and ISPs were responsible for most of this spam. Some results:

All IPs with 100+ spam emails     (311 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (250 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)    (200 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (186 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)         (180 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (173 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (166 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (159 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)      (125 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (119 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (112 spam emails, Russia - Digital Network JSC)     (108 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)     (104 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)    (101 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)        (100 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)

IP/24 ranges (256 IP addresses) with the most spam (Top Ten = all over 900)    (3077 spam emails, Lanset America Corporation)    (2652 spam emails, Lanset America Corporation)  (1218 spam emails, Essential Services)   (1218 spam emails, Leaseweb USA)    (1137 spam emails, Krypt Technologies)    (1058 spam emails, Lanset America Corporation)    (1043 spam emails, Krypt Technologies)    (993 spam emails, Krypt Technologies)    (991 spam emails, Global Frag Networks)   (983 spam emails, Eonix Corporation)

ISPs with the most total spam (Top 25)

Lanset America Corporation                 8484
ColoCrossing/Colostore                     7214
Krypt Technologies                         7199
Global Frag Networks                       6226
Essential Services                         5965
Sagitta Residential (Denmark)              4215
Core Technology Services                   4128
Eonix Corporation                          3658
Limestone Networks                         3653    (+19 legit)
QuadraNet                                  3504    (+12 legit)
Access Integrated Technologies             3402
CubeMotion LLC                             3301
Leaseweb                                   3258
RIPE Network Coordination Center           3032
Isp4p (Germany)                            3032
GHOSTnet GmbH                              2558
Heymman Servers                            2425
Hostwinds LLC                              2172
Enzu Inc                                   2021
IP Interactive (Germany)                   2006
Psychz Networks                            1872
myLoc (Germany)                            1800
AnDilo (Sweden)                            1731
PSINet                                     1709   (+233 legit)
NFOrce Entertainment BV (Netherlands)      1692

A few notes and caveats are in order. First, I haven’t identified the source of all the spam – there are a lot of IPs where I haven’t checked what ISPs they belong to, though those tend to all be low-spam IPs in low-spam IP blocks. Second, some spam senders appear to forge one or two “Received:” headers, and I’m not entirely sure I’m fully correcting for that. Third, the sources I use don’t always agree on which ISP owns certain IP blocks. In general, though, I think the figures above should be fairly close.

Also, I haven’t checked the “big boys” like Comcast, Time Warner, etc. I get a lot of spam from their ISPs, but even more legitimate email, so even if one of them would have made the list, it doesn’t seem right to put them up with the primarily-spam ISPs.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Won the Popular Vote”?

In the wake of the recent U.S. presidential election, over 3 million people have signed an online petition asking the Electors of the Electoral College to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton instead of President-elect Donald Trump, and one of their arguments to support this request/demand is that she “won the popular vote”.

Excuse me?

Secretary Clinton did NOT win the popular vote. She simply has a plurality of the popular vote. And that is more than an academic distinction.

Let’s go with a little thought experiment here. Frank, Mary and John are running for club president, and the winner is selected by a vote of the 200 club members. Mary gets 92 votes, Frank gets 87 votes, and John gets 21 votes. Who won this “popular vote”?

Answer – we don’t have enough information to know (yes, it was a trick question). You cannot say who won a vote unless you know what the rules of the vote are.

Exhibit A. In this year’s U.S. Senate race in Alaska, Republican Lisa Murkowski got 44.3% of the vote to Libertarian Joe Miller’s 29.5%; the other candidates split the remaining 26.2%. Murkowski won the vote despite not having a majority; by Alaska’s election rules, her plurality was sufficient.

Exhibit B. In the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana, Republican John Kennedy led the 24 candidates with 25.0% of the vote, with Democrat Foster Campbell getting 17.9% and everyone else trailing behind them. By Louisiana’s election rules, Kennedy did not win, because he did not get a majority of the vote; the winner will be decided in a run-off between Kennedy and Campbell.

So – suppose we were using the popular vote to decide who would be President of the United States. As of the latest counts, Hillary Clinton has 47.7% and Donald Trump 47.3%, with the other candidates splitting the remaining 5.0%. Under Alaska rules, Clinton would win. Under Louisiana rules, we’d need a run-off between the two.

We don’t have a rule covering the popular vote in the U.S. Presidential election (since we don’t choose the President that way), so let’s look at the rules for the Electoral College. To win that vote, you must have a majority, not just a plurality. Suppose Clinton had held onto Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Alaska had gone Libertarian. That would have given Clinton 268 electors, Trump 267, and Johnson 3. The result would not have been a Clinton victory, but the election being dumped in the lap of Congress, with the House choosing the President and the Senate choosing the Vice-President (as provided for by the Twelfth Amendment).

And we’re not even considering the fact that if the President were to be selected based on the nationwide popular vote, the campaigns would have been conducted very differently and many people would have voted differently, undoubtedly resulting in a different distribution of the popular vote. Given the electoral dynamics this year, anyone who claims to know for certain how that vote would have come out is either lying or delusional.

So can we please bury this nonsensical idea that Clinton “won the popular vote”?

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Map Services Comparison

The various mapping services available on the Web have different capabilities. This post explores some of the differences in what each of the three best-known services can – and cannot – do. The majority of the figures below do not come from official documentation but from my own experimentation.

Basic Maps Google Maps Bing Maps Mapquest
Max zoom level * 21 20 18
  * Zoom levels are converted to the equivalent Google Maps parameter for easier comparison
Has pure satellite view (no labels) No Yes Yes
Has aerial view (at an angle) No Yes No
Has live traffic data Yes* Yes Yes
Has typical traffic (day/time) Yes* No No
  * Google Maps traffic data only available in directions, or via direct URL encoding
Has street-level view available Extensive Limited No
Directions Google Maps Bing Maps Mapquest
Max stops (manually entered) 10 25 26
Max stops (coded via URL) 24 or 25* 15 25
  * My tests showed Google Maps would return a route for 25 stops, but the map itself never loaded
Posted in Bing Maps, Google Maps, Mapquest, Online Maps | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New Google Maps URLs – Photo Options

Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible to create a photo URL for Maps without having already accessed the photo via the standard web interface. To illustrate, let’s look at the URL Maps provided for an image of the Pittsburgh skyline:,+PA/@40.410447,-79.999124,3a,75y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1s75481719!2e1!3e10!!7i1245!8i594!4m2!3m1!1s0x8834f16f48068503:0x8df915a15aa21b34!6m1!1e1

If we break down the data options, we see:

!3m8 – Map/display type, 8 elements
   +-!1e2 – Photo View
   +-!3m6 – Photo/image information, 3 elements
        +-!1s75481719 – Photo internal ID?
        +-!2e1 – Unknown (only 1 & 4 seen for photos)
        +-!3e10 – Unknown, varies
        +-! … – Image URL
        +-!7i1245 – Width in pixels?
        +-!8i594 – Height in pixels?

!4m2 – Map/route/display options, 2 elements
   +-!1e2 – Photo View
        +-!1s0x8834f16f48068503:0x8df915a15aa21b34 – Internal ID?

!6m1 – Unknown, 1 element
   +-!1e1 – Unknown

The shortest URL I’ve been able to reproduce this photo with is:!3m4!1e2!3m2!1s75481719!2e1

However, this still includes the (apparent) internal Maps ID for the photo, and I have found no way to exclude that piece of information and still get a photo (any photo). So, all this section will let you do is save a lot of space if sending a photo URL to a friend.

Return to New Google Maps URLs introduction

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New Google Maps URLs – Street View Options

In this post we will examine the easily settable options available for Street View. There aren’t very many.

First, let’s take a look at a minimalist example of a Street View URL (i.e., leaving out everything that Maps can fill in for itself). This example shows the fountain in Pittsburgh’s Point State Park as seen from North Shore Drive:,-80.013387,3a,75y,172.24h,90t/data=!3m1!1e1

The data element !1e1 under !3m# is what specifies Street View (as opposed to Map View, Satellite View, or Photo View). The meaning of the camera settings ,3a,75y,172.24h,90t# can be found back in the Map Positioning post, but to review: 3a is a fixed setting; #y is the focus or zoom factor (15 is max zoom in, 90 is max zoom out); #h is the compass direction with North = 0, East = 90; and #t is the camera angle with 0 = straight down, 180 = straight up, and 90 = horizontal.

If your URL also includes a place:,-80.013387,3a,75y,172.24h,90t/data=!3m1!1e1

The place will control the photos and additional street views available at the bottom of the screen; however, it will not affect what is displayed in Street View, or the map that is shown when you exit (which will be centered on the location of the Street View). This holds true even if you do something ridiculous like set your “place” in California but your camera in New York City.

If you attempt to specify a place without a MAP_POSITION:!3m1!1e1

Maps will probably go to Street View but display a black screen; you will have to exit Street View or click one of the photos at the bottom of the screen to get a map or view.

If the MAP_POSITION is not on a Street View spot, Maps will select the closest available Street View if it’s not too far away (my testing suggests a maximum distance of about 150 feet). If there is no Street View position within range, Maps will display a black screen.

If you specify a MAP_POSITION which uses zoom instead of camera settings, Maps will normally reset it to focus 15y, direction 0 (North), angle 90 (horizontal).

Return to New Google Maps URLs introduction

Posted in Google Maps, Online Maps | Tagged , | 3 Comments