Saturday: Hili dialogue, farm rush hour, and various tweets

by Matthew Cobb

The penultimate Cobb morning post – The Boss should be back at the helm on Monday.

In Poland, Hili has pretensions:

Hili: I’m like the Pope.
A: What does that mean?
Hili: I’m standing on a pedestal, saying nothing.
Hili: Jestem jak papież.
Ja: To znaczy?
Hili: Stoję na cokole i nic nie mówię.
It is a glorious sunny winter morning in Manchester, and so too in Devises, where the animals are keen for their breakfast:

Vaguely in between Manchester and Wiltshire, the marvellous painter Sarah Harding posts a lovely photo:

We went walking in the woods near our house yesterday, and saw lots of busy squirrels getting ready for winter. However, none were so bold as this one, from Regent’s Park in London:

Tom Holland (the historian, not Spider-Man) posts poetry and his cat:

The history of tea, as seen through its name around the world:

I suspect these wallaby joeys are in the right pouches, despite appearances:

An ordinate fondness for beetles:

View from a car:

Two frogfish for the price of one:

Lovely fishy movement:

Even in death, nature has its wonders:


As you probably know, Elon Musk is launching a large number of satellites to provide wifi access around the world. Astronomers are not happy, and neither should the rest of us be (click on the pic to see the problem):

Finally, last night I was at the Lowry Theatre in Salford (right next to Manchester – a bit like Minneapolis and St Paul) as one of the acts on Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons and Carols. On the other side of the Manchester Ship Canal is the BBC and the complex of buildings known as Media City:



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Here’s a link to vote for Science breakthrough of the year :

    … they take the top four.

  2. Posted November 30, 2019 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Starlink is one of those things that really winds me up. I don’t recall there being any kind of debate about the pros and cons and whether Musk should be allowed to pollute the night sky in this way. He’s just gone ahead and done it.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      Is it a test of sorts?

      How long a service lifespan do these … things .. have?

      I presume they are set up for service and repair and removal?

      Some of that is at least half-snarky

      • Posted November 30, 2019 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Yes it’s a test I believe. They eventually expect to have 42,000 of them.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      I’m getting the impression the billionaires own, or believe they own, the planet, as well as the space around it. If he’s planing to colonize Mars without permission, I guess he can fill the sky without permission. Perhaps we need to extend the authority of the UN into space so that we will have treaties regarding these issues. Will Amazon claim Mare Imbrium for his stockholders? The North and South Poles have treaties, don’t they? Free enterprise may have to become a little less free.

      • Posted December 2, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Both the US and the Russians can shoot the stuff down, though …

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 2, 2019 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

          I wish they would. But is it feasible and how much will it cost to do so? And will it just leave debris floating around?

          And will they if Musk has appropriately paid off tRump and Putin?


          • darrelle
            Posted December 3, 2019 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            No debris floating around. They are purposely designed, as they were required to be by regulatory agencies, to de-orbit within a set time period and completely burn up in the upper atmosphere. Testing showed that the current design that was just launched exceeds the requirements.

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted December 3, 2019 at 7:30 am | Permalink

              Do they contain lead?

              • darrelle
                Posted December 3, 2019 at 7:35 am | Permalink

                I don’t know. Seems unlikely to me because it is so dense / massive and mass is at a very high premium, and there’s no “killer app” for lead that I’m aware of (could be though). Lead is common in solder but there are lead free solders.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted December 4, 2019 at 5:13 am | Permalink

                Even if they did contain leaded solder, I very much doubt there would be enough to constitute any hazard whatever by the time it reached ground level.


    • rickflick
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      I wonder if they couldn’t paint them a highly light absorbent black. They might need extra insulation to prevent overheating. But you still have the problem of clutter. They are bound to collide with each other or other satellites.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted November 30, 2019 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        A couple of times already other satellites have had to change velocity to avoid these Starlink blighters of which there are only 120 in LEO at the moment. Some US military outfit monitors the skies & sends out email alerts of potential collisions, SpaceX missed one alert [they say] & ESA was forced to shift one of the sats instead.

        60 of these sats are launched together as a batch – that number fits in one SpaceX rocket nose cone. SpaceX will start making the bases of these sats black, but that will not help near-IR & IR astronomy. As far as I can tell, it will not be just Musk who’ll be smearing sats everywhere in LEO – there’s no regs against it.

        Musk is a dick.

        • rickflick
          Posted November 30, 2019 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          Sad. Where’s the international community? Where’s the community of astronomers? Shouldn’t they be marching on Washington? Musk IS a dick.

          • EdwardM
            Posted November 30, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

            I must say, there are so many issues in the news one has to keep abreast of that it is easy to miss one or two and this completely evaded my attention. So I googled Starlink to see what you guys are talking about.

            Musk is a dick.

            • rickflick
              Posted November 30, 2019 at 10:20 am | Permalink

              I admire Musk’s chutzpah and creativity. He might save the world with his e-cars and battery technology. Mars, not so much. But someone has to put a halter and leash on him so he doesn’t go off the rails (to slightly mix metaphors).

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted November 30, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

              The dickishness of Elon Musk is a matter on which people of good will can agree.

              • loren russell
                Posted November 30, 2019 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

                Musk’s retort to the astronomers is that they should abandon all Earth based astronomy and put all their telescopes in orbit. I think he’s quite serious. And seriously a dick.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted December 1, 2019 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                I know that Musk engage hateboys as well as fanboys, but for observers he has not demonstrated that he is much of a dick. He support science and astronomy, and has declared that he want to solve the problems. Had he been a dick he would not care, he has his permits from US regulators and he skipped out of a science carrier.

                On astronomy and Starlink Musk has mad several tweets, but this is likely the one mentioned here:

                “There are already 4900 satellites in orbit, which people notice ~0% of the time. Starlink won’t be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully & will have ~0% impact on advancements in astronomy. We need to move telelscopes [sic!] to orbit anyway. Atmospheric attenuation is terrible.”

                So with his usual “first order estimate” he seems to have convinced himself there will be no problem; at most the initial Starlink system would have doubled the satellite light pollution. Incidentally, he is developing a real big, affordable launcher … so maybe he has ulterior motives for a hateboy. Or he is suggesting a solution for a fanboy. Hard to tell.

                As is the scope of the problem when the system (and the furor) stabilizes.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted December 1, 2019 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

                All telescopes in space as a solution to satellite pollution is nonsense Torbjörn – it’s another display of Musks ignorance & self importance. Earth-based optical telescopes can be much larger for less money & built in much less time. This means the budget will inflate less & there’s less opportunity for politics to screw the whole thing up. Earth-based are much easier to maintain & upgrade & they have a much lower risk of being damaged by one of the 400,000[?] pieces of debris flying about in local space. Multiple optical telescopes on Earth can be tied together computationally to make a huge virtual aperture [is that the word I want?].

                We know that for every beautiful space-based [we hope!] JWST we can churn out a dozen Earth-based telescopes alongside the JWST [not instead of, of course] & I reckon we’ll be using a mixed economy of Earth & space-based telescopes for many decades to come [yes I recognise the JWST does stuff not possible through an atmosphere at high temps] . It is important also that we encourage amateur optical astronomy – it will likely be an amateur who spots the next dinosaur killer [if it happens along] – the pros will take years to close that gap.

                Moving on… Musk is definitely a DICK

                Musk wants to be at the centre of the story at all times & he overrates his grasp & knowledge sometimes. He likes to jump in & make a judgement, consulting with the experts only later. This has led to him being a Dick numerous times, but here’s one prime example:

                For the Thai rescue mission he arranges the design [& shipping?] of a useless, distracting submarine – it’s Musk putting Musk at the centre of a story that doesn’t concern Musk.

                When put in his place by a rescuer**, Musk tweets in anger that that one of the Thai boys’ rescuers was a “pedo.”

                “The submarine, I believe was about 5ft 6 long, rigid, so it wouldn’t have gone round corners or any obstacles. It wouldn’t have made the first 50 metres into the cave from the dive start point. Just a PR stunt”

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted December 1, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Oops, many or most of earlier communication satellites are geostationary, while the constellations are not. So not so easy to compare.

                Still, it is an argument that this is not a new problem. (Which makes it odd that the astronomy community seems so unprepared.)

    • Mark R.
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Wall Street is heavily invested in Starlink. Money has a way of overwhelming good judgement.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted December 1, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      The debate of Starlink may wind me up: so many misconceptions.

      Astronomers are not happy, and neither should the rest of us be

      I am actually happy so far (but we will see), since it will mean so much for global economy.

      So, some of the misconceptions:

      – The click bait trains are the low orbit deployment. If Starlink stays up as a system with 5 year replacement cycles, it will happen once a month. Predictably, at that, the astronomers that were photobombed this time around just did not care to inform themselves.

      – There is a democratic, regulatory structure. More than that, space enthusiasts have warned against this for years. But astronomers have not much say, for reasons that are outside any specific company. SpaceX got their permit for these launches.

      – The Starlink satellites are continously improved, SpaceX fashion. Deployment position is just one, Sun-facing, solar panel, and of course twice or more the height and spread out, so much less visible. They can be coated (which should help optical astronomy, if not radio astronomy – but see the frequency et cetera regulation above).

      – SpaceX have, for reasons unknown, applied for nearly an order of magnitude more satellites than originally required. Meanwhile they have improved performance, so can do the original service with less satellites. We’ll see how many they will get, how many they will launch et cetera. But at this time we just don’t know.

      And there is likely more points. I’m interested in astrobiology, but at this rate commercial companies will put contamination all around the system before regulators and law enforcement step in. Re the Israel Moon lander that – by sneaking – had freeze dried animals on board.

  3. Jacques Hausser
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I just discovered that Caroline of the rush hour is a talented painter and produces delightful renderings of the farm animals. Well worth a look:

    • EdwardM
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Those are very good indeed. Thanks for the link.

  4. DrBrydon
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Starlink seems like that point in the movie where the quirky inventor/billionaire reveals his master plan for world domination, and becomes a Bond villain. Come on Connery/Lazenby/Brosnan/Dalton/Craig, do your stuff.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      No love for Roger Moore, I take it? 🙂

      I’m a Connery man myself, but for those of a certain age, Moore is “Bond, James Bond.”

      • DrBrydon
        Posted November 30, 2019 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        Well, I was just considering the fact that he past beyond the curtain.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 2, 2019 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        My wife thinks Sean Connery’s name is James Bond.

        (Well, she actually knows it isn’t, but she just finds it easier to remember ‘James Bond’ than ‘Sean Connery’)


  5. darrelle
    Posted December 2, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Most of the above criticisms of Starlink are misinformed and some completely wrong. I can understand skepticism and criticism of SpaceX and Musk but I just don’t get the Musk-hatred by so many. Especially hate based on misinformation by people that value getting facts straight.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 2, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      It was reported that the astronomical community is worried. Shouldn’t they be?

      • darrelle
        Posted December 3, 2019 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        I was speaking more about the comments than the OP.

        Should the astronomical community be worried? Possibly, I’m not sure. I thinks it fine that they raise concern. But those images they showed were of a deployment of a batch of 60 or so satellites. They are packed like flat-pack furniture and deployed closely together in a train and then disperse to their separate orbits over a period of days. In other words what they were seeing was a short lived event. This seems to have been communicated poorly by the astronomical community members raising concerns about Star Link because nobody who is jumping on the bandwagon mentions it.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 3, 2019 at 7:52 am | Permalink


          “Should the astronomical community be worried? Possibly, I’m not sure”

          The answer is “yes, the astronomical community is worried about it & yes, they probably should be”

          “…those images they showed were of a deployment of a batch of 60 or so satellites. […] [the satellite train] we’re seeing was a short lived event. This seems to have been communicated poorly by the astronomical community members raising concerns about Star Link because nobody who is jumping on the bandwagon mentions it”

          You have it wrong – the IAU were not best pleased by the satellite train, but their worries extend far beyond the deployment phase! These sats are orbiting in LEO & there’s going to be a shit ton more LEO sats [10s of thousands of them in maybe only a decade] – there are 1,338 SATS in LEO NOW & but it’s going to be 30k minimum in 10 YEARS! UCS SATELLITE DATABASE

          The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is voicing concerns about the risk that SpaceX’s Starlink and other planned massive satellite constellations in low Earth orbit pose to astronomy

          “The IAU was prompted to release its statement by astronomers’ outcry about the high post-launch visibility of the first 60 Starlink satellites, which SpaceX deployed on May 23. (SpaceX’s Starlink satellites will become less visible as they settle into their permanent orbits.) SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dismissed these concerns on Twitter on May 27, but the outcry has continued.

          SPACE.COM:The statement is careful to note that it isn’t just SpaceX’s Starlink that poses a threat to astronomy. The existing Iridium constellation, as well as the in-progress OneWeb and existing Globalstar internet networks are also cited in the statement, as are Amazon’s recently announced Project Kuiper satellite internet and the Athena internet satellite that Facebook was suspected to be working on last summer.

          The IAU’s concern with each of these projects is the sheer number of satellites each requires in low Earth orbit. To date, there have been fewer than 200 [MIKE NOTE: THERE’S MORE THAN THAT] such satellites, according to the statement, but the IAU worries that number could reach five digits. And taken together, all of those satellites could threaten two key types of astronomy.

          First, optical astronomy. Each individual satellite reflects light, and while most of these reflections are too faint for casual skywatchers to see, astronomers rely on much more sensitive optical telescopes. Particularly at risk from mega-constellations will be supersensitive optical telescopes and those designed to survey the whole sky rapidly, according to the IAU.

          And these satellites threaten radio astronomy as well, the organization writes. The constellations will communicate with Earth via radio signals, and astronomers working in radio wavelengths already struggle to ignore all of the human chatter that relies on this type of communication. The IAU specifically calls out the Event Horizon Telescope’s imaging of a black hole as the sort of project that could be affected by mega-constellations.

          “Although significant effort has been put into mitigating the problems with the different satellite constellations, we strongly recommend that all stakeholders in this new and largely unregulated frontier of space utilisation work collaboratively to their mutual advantage,” the IAU statement reads. “Satellite constellations can pose a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures, and we urge their designers and deployers as well as policy-makers to work with the astronomical community in a concerted effort to analyse and understand the impact of satellite constellations”

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 3, 2019 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Here’s a GOOD OVERVIEW of the coming LEO satellite population explosion by Ethan Siegal [astronomer] & it’s effects up to now. Note that Ethan is suggesting mitigations too. The piece is called “This Is How Elon Musk Can Fix The Damage His Starlink Satellites Are Causing To Astronomy”

      Regards Michael “the bandwagon jumper” Fisher

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 3, 2019 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        it’s its

      • darrelle
        Posted December 3, 2019 at 8:20 am | Permalink


        I was aware of everything you mentioned here. None of it is contrary to anything I said. Parts of it confirm things I said. Please note that I wrote that the astronomical community probably should be concerned and that I think it’s fine for them to raise concerns. What I’m criticizing is hyperbole, misinformation and in the particular case of SpaceX what appears to be personal animosity of Musk overriding rational-skeptical assessment.

        I also stand by my claim that lots of people jumping on the bandwagon are making misinformed claims. An excellent example are the claims, and acceptance of them, of the sort that Musk is just doing whatever he wants without regulation / oversight.

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