NASA is setting its sights on the Moon in the 2020’s. The Artemis Program (Apollo’s twin sister) will send men and women into space to set up an outpost on the lunar surface and begin testing new equipment and technologies that could pave the way to Mars in the 2030’s
2020 has been a busy year! While we’ve been focused on news about a coronavirus vaccine, the election in November, and a Supreme Court nomination, we haven’t talked much about the 2020 Census. It’s a legal obligation to respond and it’s never been easier since this is the first time that the census can be completed online.
The need for a population census was written into the U.S. Constitution and has been happening every 10 years since 1790. The Census Bureau, part of the Department of Commerce, has worked to ensure that this process is both convenient and uncomplicated.
The questionnaire asks for the number of individuals, along with their sex and race, living at a specific residence on the target day of April 1, 2020. The statistical data generated from the census is used to inform the federal government about where funding is needed for schools, hospitals, fire departments and infrastructure projects, channeling trillions of dollars into local communities. Businesses use the information to chart economic trends around the country to determine where to open new store locations. Most importantly, though, voting districts within each state could be redrawn depending on population movement. This could change the number of House representatives that each state has in Congress.
If you haven’t received an “invitation,” simply go to 2020census.gov for information.
This year, concerns about both social distancing and mail-in ballots have prompted election officials to allow voters to have early access to the polls.
Traditionally, though, Americans vote for a new President and Vice President on the first Tuesday in November.
According to History.com, this practice began in the 1800’s when most Americans were farmers who planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, and couldn’t travel much during the cold stretch of winter. In the month of November, the farm work was completed and it was time to bring the crops to market. Since families attended church on Sunday and most farmers traveled a day or longer to reach the nearest town, market day was usually on Wednesday.
Election day was set for the first Tuesday in November so that even the hardest working Americans could make it to the polls.
The recent crash course about how to stay safe in a world filled with pesky micro-organisms has led to speculation about the safety of our food supply. Viruses, bacteria, molds, and insects not only cause illness, they reduce the shelf-life of many types of foods and that raises costs to the consumer.
Food irradiation is approved by the FDA for fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and seafood. It involves exposing the foods to either gamma rays, x-rays, or an electron beam. This is the same process used to x-ray a patient and sterilize medical equipment, and it’s very costly. Only a small fraction of our food in the U.S. is irradiated. Instead, the FDA has regulations in place to make sure these foods are safely handled and packaged by the processor. When consumers are careful to wash their hands, their cutting boards and utensils, and washing fruits and vegetables at home, there is very little risk of contamination.Pasteurization is much a more common process used to kill micro-organisms in water, juice, milk, eggs, and honey. These foods are heated to about 100C or 212F and then immediately packaged in air-tight containers. Though it’s named after Louis Pasteur, who “discovered” in 1864 that when wine was heated before bottling it was less acidic, there is evidence that it was utilized in China and Japan as early as the twelfth century.
The Electoral College
Article II of the U.S. Constitution provides for the selection of a group of “electors” within each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. What eventually became known as the Electoral College is the process in effect today for electing a President and a Vice President to office.
The number of electors allotted to each state is equal to that state’s representation in Congress; two plus their number of representatives in the House. There are a total of 538 electors (100 + 435 + 3 in DC) with a majority of 270 needed to win the election. Each candidate running for office has his/her own separate group of electors, usually individuals loyal to their political party who could be trusted to faithfully vote for their candidate if given the opportunity.
When Americans choose a candidate on election day, the votes are tallied within each state and the candidate that receives the most votes then activates his/her group of electors. Almost all states have a “winner takes all” approach; all the state’s electoral votes go to the candidate that received the majority of votes in that state. (The exception to this is Nebraska and Maine. These states allow electors to vote for the candidate that received the most votes within different districts rather than the state majority).
Though the winner of the election is usually announced within a day, the electors formally place their votes in December. The votes are counted and read aloud in a Joint Session of Congress in the first week of January. The new President and Vice President are inaugurated and officially take office at noon on January 20.
The Electoral College process has it’s critics and many have argued for reform. The most persuasive of the criticisms is that it is possible for a candidate to be awarded the most electoral votes while not winning the majority of popular votes. This occurred in 1876, 1888 and recently in 2000 and 2016. Also, some have observed that candidates tend to focus their campaigning on a small number of competitive “swing states” where the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is near equal and a win in that state could decide the election.
Proponents, though, argue that the Electoral College increases the voting power of smaller states and states with more rural populations. Candidates have to campaign across a wider geographical area instead of just trying to win the popular vote by campaigning in large cities and populated regions of the country.
Deep in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the modern day region of Nepal, the philosophies of Buddhism were established by the warrior-prince Siddhartha Gautama who set out on a spiritual quest in the fifth century BCE that took him from the heights of luxury to the depths of near-starvation in his attempt to understand the nature of reality.
Siddhartha Gautama meditated beneath the bodhi tree until he found the “middle path” and became enlightened. From then on he was known as the Buddha
The Four Noble Truths
- Pain, anxiety, and suffering are part of being human
- Suffering results from the craving of sensual pleasures, status, or control
- There is a way to conquer pain and end worldly cravings
- The pathway to end suffering is the Noble Eight-fold Path (read article)
If you’ve ever – just for fun – read your horoscope to find out what the universe has in store for you, don’t forget that the signs of the Zodiac are real constellations in the night sky. Astrology and Astronomy are very different things, but within the boundaries set by the International Astronomical Union, are the luminous stars, star clusters, galaxies and planetary nebulae that astrologers believe are connected to the month you were born.
Libra is a small midsummer constellation with just one deep sky object within its boundaries. NGC 5897 is over 40,000 light years from earth, a bright and distant open star cluster. (below)
The alpha star of Libra is a binary star system 77 light years from earth. Beta Librae, more luminous than the alpha, is much farther away at 170 light years and is said to be a rare green colored star.
The brightest stars of Libra form a set of scales, the only Zodiac constellation that represents an inanimate object rather than a mythical beast or warrior. The Scales are said to belong to Astraea, the Goddess of Justice. The poet Ovid explained that Astraea fled the dangers of the war-torn earth to become the maiden of the constellation Virgo to the north-east.
The history of the constellation Libra is also connected with Scorpio to the west, as the stars of Libra were once the claws of the scorpion in Scorpio. The alpha and beta stars of Libra have the cool names Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, meaning “southern claw” and “northern claw.”
In the first century BCE, Roman astronomers rearranged this region of the sky, connecting the two brightest stars with the gamma star to create the likeness of a balance.
Mars is mostly known for the covering of iron oxide that gives the “red planet” it’s crimson color and causes dust storms to sweep across its surface. From past missions we also know that the subsurface rocks are igneous basalt, resulting from volcanic activity millions of years ago.
The goal of Perseverance is to study the rocks and soil on Mars in much greater detail and with cutting edge technology. Cameras, spectrometers, and ground penetrating radar will identify the precise minerals found in the soil and continue to search for organic compounds. Perseverance has the capability to drill and extract core samples that will be brought back to earth in a later mission.
The battery-powered Ingenuity drone will fly through the thin atmosphere on Mars at a height of about 30 feet (10 meters). It will take images of the surrounding landscape, identifying obstacles for Perseverance to avoid and mapping a travel route to exit the crater.
The journey to Mars will take about 7 months, so Perseverance, with Ingenuity hitching a ride, is scheduled to arrive in February 2021.