Saturday, 4 July 2015

Pluto dwarf planet, major star

On the 14th of July 14, 2015 at 11:50 UTC New Horizons will fly by Pluto at an altitude of 7,800 miles. On July 14-15, 1965 Mariner 4 performed the first flyby of a planet, so it will be exactly 50 years. It 50 years through which I have lived, I'm 2 years younger than the Space age, but 2 years older than planetary research.
Best picture of Pluto 4 July 2015
In that time Pluto's status has changed from Planet to Dwarf Planet, this has caused some upset to some people. In reality, when Pluto was first observed it was the press that decided it was a planet, astronomers new it was different but couldn't spell out why. When other objects similar to Pluto began to be found, starting with the romantically named  (15760) 1992 QB1 in 1992, it became clear that a new classification was needed or there was going to be a vast number of planets, currently there are over 1500 know Trans Neptunian Object and Pluto is more like the larger of these Eris, Makemake and Haumea than it is like the 8 planets.
In mid June the pictures from New Horizons exceeded the resolution of Hubble images, detail is now beginning to show and in 10 days Pluto will be ready for its close up.
When the mission set out it was to complete the set of planetary snapshots, but it appears now that Voyager 2 managed that in 1989. So this mission now represents a much more important milestone, not the end of 1 phase of discovery, but the start of a new one, a phase that will take many life times to complete, even if new faster than light travel is discovered. The TNOs cover a vast collection of objects including the Kuiper belt, scattered disk, and Oort cloud enough to make sure that we lose interest before getting to them all.
I had a look through the list of predictions of what might be found, I cannot comment on those but did notice one missing and that is a Flux Tube between Pluto & Charon, similar to the Io Flux tube, but far far weaker. I think it is possible only because the solar wind will be so light at that point that even a ghostly tube may exist. For it to exist Pluto must have a magnetic field and Charon an atmosphere. If there is one I want my name on it.
If you are alive on the 14th then you live at the beginning of a greater age of space exploration than any of your dead predecessors. Like the start of all the other ages it will be live on all sorts of media but you should make sure you gather with your friends and family so you can remember where you were when it started.
I know who I was with and where I was when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon and when Giotto passed by Halley's Comet  they are precious memories to me, if not the others present.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Seconds out.

If I read one more joke about the leap second, then someone is going to die. In the days before twitter it took a good few weeks before every single possible joke on a fashionable topic had been exhausted. Now by the time you have read the first all possible versions of that joke have been tweeted, in every applicable language. A long twitter fad is one that lasts a month, a twitter fad that makes it past a week is geriatric.

Most marginal ideas can be created dissected and disposed of in a matter of hours, on the internet, with the exception of conspiracy theories, the more they are cut, the more they live, each slice creates a new scion which will itself be dissected and multiplied like all those that came before.
The shrapnel produced by this endless pounding is like an irritating dust that get in the way of the view. It blocks up vents and creates friction in the bearings. It's no longer like a big rock that stands in the road that simply has to be bypassed it a long section of the road a cloying suffocating mess, which in some conditions becomes an impassable quagmire.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Things to Come

This the futre for humanity, it is this or nothing.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Still ruled by princes

The UK may nominally be a monarchy and lots of other countries republics, but in reality the duties that the state assumes for itself and the duties that conservatives would like to limit a state too, are those of a medieval prince.
The first duty of a medieval prince was the defence of his lands, mainly from other medieval princes, to fight in the wars of his allies and those he owed fealty to.

Protecting them from his knights or from each other was a long way down the list, protecting them from disease and injury was even further down the list. In the case of disease, it doubtful they could actually have done anything.

The standing of a prince amongst his peers was judged by the his wealth, his victories in battle and the wealth of his knights.

Today, governments around the world will spend enormous amounts of treasure and blood to stop the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda from killing its citizens, it will deprive its citizens of the basic freedom of privacy, deprive those from other countries of the freedom itself.

The most princely of states are the ones that actively eschew the hereditary principle, while their citizens are killed by disease, injury and their fellow citizens. The measure of a modern state should not be the prestige of its leaders.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

We need to talk about Warren

Sometime ago the leader of Liverpool City Council was Warren Bradley, a LibDem. He became leader when Mike "Jackanory" Storey had to resign of a breach of the code of conduct. Storey was at best anodyne, a primary school headmaster with all the charisma of a primary school headmaster. When Warren came along, I'd never heard of him, but it was quite clear he was only Storey's proxy.

Both Storey and Bradley achieved very little, the greatest achievement of Storey was securing the Capital of Culture year for Liverpool and that was about it. Very little happened in the city.

After a brief discussion with Bradley, it seems that he thinks of himself as badly done by and regards any mention of his conviction for a rather foolish bit of electoral fraud as abusive. Warren you weren't hard done by, you were just so far out of your league it was painful.

One of his statements that "educated people are seeing through Joe Anderson", would seem to imply, that as he doesn't like the guy, he sees himself as an educated man. Well, while I don't have any facts about his education, if he has one he has always hidden it well. He variously came over as some who hasn't got that much of an idea of what's going on, always slightly bemused or slightly drunk.

Like a lot of LibDems, he suffered from a lack of imagination and drive, whether you agree with Anderson or not, he has got something done, Warren and Co never did, they were obsessed with not annoying anyone, in the end they annoyed a lot of people. People will forgive mistakes, they are less forgiving of inaction. It is equally true that always answering the call "something must be done" with something is just as wrong.

Liverpool Council suffered from a paralysis that it didn't want to be in the same light as Militant, this led it to be non-confrontational and frankly cowardly, Warren is the personification of that. You can see in the local journals the anger that Joe Anderson has raised by simply doing things, some are outraged that he has not doing the things that they want, others are just annoyed that he is doing things at all. All of them are convinced they speak for the people of Liverpool, all of them ignore the fact that in the May election Joe's party increased its seats on the council.

Let get this right Joe is not a smooth political operator he is in fact a bit of a gobshite but so are his most voluble critics. Not least among them Warren. What most of the voices offer is a quick fix, just do what we want, have our  priorities and it will all be ok. What history teaches us is that this is wrong, you cannot have any real, permanent long term effect on society over night, this is a long hard slog where the reasonable ambition is to make things better for your great grandchildren. To believe you can do it quicker is vanity and a dangerous vanity.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Trans North/HS3

The Government release the The Northern Powerhouse: One Agenda, One Economy, One North report, which contains some interesting stuff regarding Liverpool and High Speed rail, most notably
Liverpool to Manchester Airport / Manchester – Work by Network Rail has shown that journey times between Liverpool and Manchester of 20 minutes are possible, including a connection onto the HS2 network. We will now carry out further work to produce detailed options to move towards the journey time ambition. hThis will include the option for a new high speed line between Liverpool and Manchester with a connection to the proposed HS2 network.
Trans North/HS3
Also covered is HS3 which has similarities to my Pan Northern Railway  though without York, Chester and Holyhead.
HS3 using existing lines
The target maximum speed that has been mentioned is 140 mph, this was the same as the target for the West Coast Mainline upgrade in the 90s.
The was for the first generation of Pendolinos, the second generation are capable of 155mph. The reason they don't go over 125 is lack of in cab signalling, but under existing plans the entire system will be set up for in cab signalling by 2029, according to the International Rail Journal. Electrification from Man to Leeds is already planned as is Leeds to Hull according to the BBC. It is already in place Liverpool to Manchester.
The proposed times for HS3 are
Liv -> Manc in 20 minutes, mean  94.5 mph over 31.5 miles.
Man->Leeds in 30 minutes, mean 85.4 mph over 42.7 miles.
Leeds ->Hull in 45 minutes, mean 68 mph over 51.6 miles. 

So all those are already planned before HS3! what extra is needs to happen for HS3?
The OpenOffice Calc spread sheet can be found here
The OpenOffice Calc spread sheet can be found here.
The Liverpool to Manchester section, given a Pendolino, allowed to accelerate straight to 140 and decelerate into Manchester Victoria would take 15:35. With various limitations caused by going through stations and in urban areas 20 minutes is very close to the maximum that could be achieved. To make a 20 minutes service possible some work would need to be done, whether that would be passing loops or quadrupling of long sections I don't know, perhaps some traffic could be offloaded to other routes but providing access for St Helens & Newton le Willows is not optional. Complete requadrupling of the section from Lime Street to Huyton Junction would help, that would require work to widen the track bed at Broad Green where the M62 intrudes.
The Manchester -> Leeds time of 30 minutes knocks about 15 minutes off of the current journey time, and is 9:37 slower than the theoretical maximum, bearing in mind this is the curviest bit of the route this is less demanding than the Liverpool Manchester time and perhaps reflects greater thought and time applied.  
The Hull time is only 9 minutes faster than the current time which is the smallest improvement and as this is the longest route doesn't make much sense. Most of the route is quite straight except for a large kink around Selby.
Rail lines around Selby
The average speed for Leeds -> Hull is 68.8 compared with 94.53 for Liv->Man and 85.4 for Man->Leeds. This seems a bit slow, given the profile I would expect a mean speed faster than the Man->Leeds speed. At the same average speed as the Liv->Man journey Leeds -> Hull is about 32:45 and at the Man -> Leeds is 36:15. So it should be possible to knock a further 10 minutes of the overall journey getting the overall journey down to 1:35.

A second generation Pendolino is capable of 155mph, similar to the Advanced Passenger Train, in order to operate at the higher speed the APT had enhanced brakes, these are not on the Pendilino. If a system capable of similar braking to the APTs Hydro Kinetic system were fitted then speeds over 140 could be achieved, which might allow some more savings or at least greater safety margin.  One candidate for the breaking system would be Circular or Linear Eddy Current Braking both of which have been used on railways in excess of 155mph.

Beyond England
Welsh extension.
Currently the time from Hull to Holyhead, 218 miles, would be 4:09 with an average speed of 52.5 mph, if some stops are taken out leaving on stops at the major stops, then the journey can be down to 3:39 with a mean speed of 59 mph. Whilst this probably faster than it can be driven, the current journey would be longer as it would involve waiting for connections at the principle stations.
Using the 140 mph maximum then with the full set of stops the journey could be made in 2:19 with a mean speed of 94 mph. With only principle stops that drops to 1:42 at a mean of 128.
The theoretical speed would obviously not be possible but a time of between 2:30 and 2:45 should be possible, knocking 1:24 of the current possible time.

A Liverpool Holyhead journey, via the soon to be reinstated Halton curve, would take about 2:00, this time is even more speculative than the others as it involves the Chester to Runcorn parliamentary train, which only runs early Saturday morning during the summer, and is in no rush. Taking out the stops gets down to 1:52. With the high speed options the time drops to 1:00 with stops and 51 without. Giving an estimated real word time as 1:15, a 45 minute saving.

Electrifying and speeding up Chester to Holyhead would improve London Holyhead times, as well as local trains, as part of HS3 it would provide a very useful link between the Ferry Terminals of Hull and Holyhead.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Midland Main Line

In the picture below you can see the line from Derby to Manchester that used to part of the Midland Main Line connecting London and Manchester. It is now cut back to serving Derby and Sheffield.

The yellow portions of the Line out of Derby and Manchester are still in use but not as a main line. The white section in the middle is 14 miles of unused track bed.
Reconnecting this would add redundancy to the London Northwest link and provide a direct faster connection to the East Midlands.
If and HS3 will create a Northern power house an eXtended Midland Mainline can only boost it further.