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July 6, 2011

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Technology and Innovation: Asteroid Exploration

  |   Video
  • The newly announced OSIRIS-Rex NASA mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth will include an instrument built at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). This Thermal Emission Spectrometer, similar to those used on the Mars Rovers, will be the first such instrument for spaceflight to be built at ASU. In addition to a background report on asteroids and OSIRIS-Rex, Mission Instrument Scientist Phil Christensen will discuss the technology and challenges associated with the project.
  • Phil Christensen - Mission Instrument Scientist, ASU
Category: Science   |   Keywords: technology, space,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The final launch of the space shuttle is set for Friday, but a new era in space exploration has already begun. NASA recently announced its latest mission -- Osires-Rex. The mission involves learning more about earth's history by obtaining samples of an asteroid that's headed in this direction.

David Majure: It's called asteroid 1999RQ36. One third of a mile in diameter and possibly on a collision course with earth. But long before such an event could take place, the NASA mission, Osires-Rex, will intercept the asteroid and take an unprecedented look at this important celestial body.

Meenakshi Wadhwa: Asteroids are some of the oldest materials that formed in the solar system. 4.5 billion years ago when the dust was collapsing to form the solar system, these are among the first solid objects that formed and represent a window into the past.

David Majure: Part of the program is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2016 and rendezvous with the asteroid in late 2019. To collect a pristine sample of rock, soil and dust and bring it back for analysis, roviding a rare opportunity for researchers, including Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa and her team at ASU's center for meteorite studies.

Meenakshi Wadhwa: There's all kinds of asteroid that's represent all materials. This particular type has -- I think it has carbon in it, and that's kind of important because it might actually have organic compounds in it. A composition similar to the asteroid we're going to might have impact with the early earth and brought along organic materials that provided the chemistry to originate life here and, you know, obviously a big question of interest, how did life originate on our planet and that's one of the important questions that we'll be -- will be addressed.
David Majure: Prior to the collection of sample, Osires-Rex will spend over a year exploring the asteroid using a suite of instruments including a thermal emission spectrometer that twill map the composition of the asteroid. It's technology previously used on the Mars exploration rovers and helps demonstrates the complexity of such a mission. For NASA and all of those involved in the effort, Osires-Rex represents a critical opportunity to gain a not only a wealth of information about earth's past but also to provide a steppingstone for future human space exploration.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to discuss Osires-Rex is ASU researcher and instrument scientist for the mission, Phil Christensen. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us, you're welcome. Expand on what we heard. The goal of this particular mission.

Phil Christensen: There's a lot of asteroids in the similar system. We -- solar system. This one we think dates from the beginning of the solar system and has organic compounds and may have led to life on earth and we want some of that stuff in our laboratory. Meteorites -- to get fresh unaltered stuff, you need to go there and get it and bring it back. It's going to tell us a lot about the beginnings of our solar system.
Ted Simons: How much of a sample would be taken?

Phil Christensen: It's about four or five pounds. It would make a nice pile on the desk. Not a tiny speck. Enough so we can send it out and analyze it and check -- a lot of different ways to figure out what's what it's made of.

Ted Simons: And this particular asteroid has the highest probability of getting up close and personal, huh?

Phil Christensen: It was picked because it's unique and easy to get to and organic stuff and then turned out it's the most likely one of hundreds of thousands to eventually hit the earth which give us a good reason to go there. If this thing is going to hit some day, we need to know enough about it to deflect it.

ed Simons: 150 years from now --

Phil Christensen: Not in our lifetime, but someone will be on the earth and make someone have a bad day. The more we can help out – we’ll help future generation.

Ted Simons: Talk about ASU's role in the mission and the thermal emission spectrometer.
Phil Christensen: We've made four or five and sent them to Mars and in the past, they've been built by aerospace companies in California. ASU didn't have the expertise to build the complex devices on campus. But we worked hard and started this new school and attracted the talent and the people. I spent the last couple of years convincing NASA that we can build this thing on the campus using ASU employees. That's a huge step. And so for me, that's a big deal with this mission. To take what we've done and build it right here in Tempe.

Ted Simons: And that spectrometer looks at infrared light?

Phil Christensen: Every object emits infrared light and does in a unique way so we can look at that infrared light and tell what the material is made out of. What rocks and minerals. So you and I are giving off a unique spectrum or fingerprint that the infrared light can pick up and I can tell what that's made of. We map it and figure out the minerals and get some.

Ted Simons: Talk about the other challenges, regarding the mission and again, it's got to help ASU's status in terms of science and technology.

Phil Christensen: It does. There are two or three universities in the world that build these types of instruments on -- on the campus. So in terms of recruiting the best students in the world, the best researchers in the world, the best staff in the world, it makes my job easy. I can say, hey, we're building this thing, come to ASU, it's the place to be. So it's huge, I think, for the university to increase our stature.

Ted Simons: And the launch isn't for quite a while, correct?

Phil Christensen: These missions, it's a long process. Five years from now until launch but it's going to be a very hectic time. Design it, build one of a kind never been built before gizmo and takes a while to make these things. Five years to launch, a few years to get there. The samples won't come back for a dozen years.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Phil Christensen: That's the nature of space exploration. It takes a long time.

Ted Simons: Which keeps the state in the hunt for that amount of time.
Phil Christensen: Right. It keeps us in the fore front and allows us to say – hey, this is the place to be! We are doing some really exciting stuff.
Ted Simons: We keep hearing you learn about a asteroid, you learn about the earth. Especially the ancient history of the earth. Talk to us about that.

Phil Christensen: You and I are made up of organic materials. That stuff had to come from somewhere. Recent thinking is that that organic material that makes up living things may have been come from these kind of asteroids. So as the earth was forming the stuff that makes up water and rocks and air, that the organic compounds may have come from these asteroids and we're guessing how did life start?

Ted Simons: And you get this sample, this information, are you expecting some big findings out of this?

Phil Christensen: Exactly. This is a first. We've never held this type of stuff in our hands, we're going to learn a lot. Who knows what we'll find.

Ted Simons: It's absolutely fascinating stuff and good to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Phil Christensen: My pleasure.

Clean Elections Ruling Impact

  |   Video
  • The United States Supreme Court ruled that the matching funds provision of Arizona’s Clean Elections public campaign financing system is unconstitutional. That means publicly-funded candidates will no longer get extra public money to match spending by privately-financed candidates. Political analysts Bob Grossfeld of the Media Guys and Stan Barnes of Copper State Consulting Group talk about the decision will change Arizona’s political landscape.
  • Bob Grossfeld - Media Guys
  • Stan Barnes - Copper State Consulting Group
Category: Government   |   Keywords: government, clean elections, u.s. supreme court, ,

View Transcript
Clean Elections Ruling Impact
Ted Simons: The U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down part of Arizona's public campaign finance law. The court ruled that giving money to publicly funded candidates to match spending by those running with private funds is unconstitutional. Here to talk about how the high court's decision might impact Arizona's political landscape are political consultants Stan Barnes of Copper State Consulting, and Bob Grossfeld of the Media Guys. Good to see you both back on the show.

Bob Grossfeld: Good to be here.

Stan Barnes: All right. Let's start with a general I am impression. What's the impact of this ruling on the Arizona political landscape?

Stan Barnes: It's as big as you might make it out to be. This political science experiment Arizona has been through I consider it's a one off experiment we've tried and had the impact of deciding who our governor was. It's changed the legislative makeup. And it all -- all in the name of trying to improve some perceived problem from politics. It's failed. The Supreme Court did the right thing. We're better off for it.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Bob Grossfeld: When you look at the track record since '02, this is going to impact Republicans more than Democrats. Republicans -- because we've got this insane district system, it -- they were the ones using clean elections money more than anybody else in the primaries because that's where so many of the -- of those elections are decided. So it's going to impact them quite a bit unless they can scramble and I'm sure many of them are to get outside groups up and raising money.

Ted Simons: Ok. What kind of candidate now will go public? Considering the fact your opponent could be private and could raise to the ceiling and you can't.

Bob Grossfeld:Among the -- the consultant crew, I think there's a general agreement things are going to go back to where they were prior to '02, which is the -- to be nice about it, the fringe elements who could never have gotten on to the ballot before will still have access to the ballot through the mechanism of the $5 contributions and all of that.

Ted Simons: Do you agree?

Stan Barnes: Yeah, I do agree. In the course of this political science experiment I was referencing, we've seen people receive taxpayer dollars when they would receive none in a normal political complain and fritter that money away at bars and mountaintop posters of themselves in leather bikinis and crazy stuff and it didn't work. And now, in order to attract resources to run, candidates are going to have to be more presentable to more people and going to have to reflect the views of opinion leaders and doers and producers in society, the folks that give to campaigns and want it see good government.

Ted Simons: Does that equate to a more moderate candidate?

Stan Barnes: Labels are dangerous but it's fair to say you'll get a different kind of candidate. Needs to be one that is more presentable to more people. And one that's less oriented toward fringe politics and ideologue gone wrong nature.

Ted Simons: What do you think? Will we see more moderate candidates running because of this or have the fringe or extreme right or left, whatever the case may be, are they entrenched where they don't need it?

Bob Grossfeld: The real problem and I said this back in '0 2, the problem is we created a clean elections system to deal with the money and corruption and at the same time, created a new way of redistricting that's turned out to be inept and without reforming both -- reforming both at the same time, we get this mess. It's predictable. One can't solve the problem without the other and now we have broken down on both sides, who know what is we'll get.

Ted Simons: Is this possible you could see lawmakers -- could consensus rear its head in the legislature?

Stan Barnes: In this legislature?

Ted Simons: Knowing that matching funds ain't going to be there.

Bob Grossfeld: If you're talking about the Jetsons, not anything I can --

Stan Barnes: You mean the distant future.
Stan Barnes: I don't think it's one plus one equals two to get to us a legislature that's more unified but we will have -- we will have members behaving differently and won't have people that are either unqualified or could never have gotten there having resources which to make noise. And, you know, I -- the whole premise of this -- this political science experiment, I think, was wrong. Money is in politics. It’s always has been and always will be in any country on planet earth. That's not bad. Disclosure is good and the public knowing where money is coming from, who it's coming from and in real time that makes for a good system. And if you can't draw resources you shouldn't be making decisions about government.

Ted Simons: That almost sounds like something in the opinion written by chief justice Roberts who said there's no reason to equate -- I know you brought it with you. Impressive. No reason to equate money with corruption in politics.

Bob Grossfeld: I think he's dead wrong. He's quoting from his own opinion. Davis, which knocked out the millionaire's provision was used for the -- what was it? The citizens united.

Ted Simons: Yes, yes.

Bob Grossfeld: So they're relying on the previous decision and then come out with citizens united which blows everything up and then this one. This one was -- you know, compared to citizens united but had the same effect in terms of disclosure and stuff like -- we've been trying disclosure for a long time. Nobody pays attention.

Stan Barnes: Maybe because there's not a problem, is my argument. The disclosure is good, for those who want to pay attention to self-government. It's there for everyone to see.

Ted Simons: What about negative ads? Some are suggesting without this -- the matching funds in here, we could see less in the way of negative ads, do you agree with that?

Bob Grossfeld: Absolutely not. When you have outfits like the coke brothers flying around getting involved in campaign after campaign and then spinoff local type organization, a lot of money, they know the formula, you get in early and mess up your opponent and make the opponent deny whatever you charge them with straight up to the election.

Ted Simons: So you think private donation do not have a mollifying effect?

Stan Barnes: No, I think negative ads work and that's why they're used and regardless whether the money comes, candidates will continue to use them.

Ted Simons: Ok. In the grand scheme of things, when will we likely see a basic change of nature in political candidates because of this ruling? Soon? I mean, we had the last election, half the candidates were running public.

Stan Barnes: When Janet Napolitano won in 2002 by 11,000 votes and did it with matched taxpayer dollars to her campaign, every time that Matt Salmon went out and raised a dollar that told the world this game is different. He's out spending money to raise money and as he does, the future Governor Napolitano was raking it in. We're going to roll back to what we thought was the baseline, this idea you raise money on your merits and not rewarding your opponent at the same time. That means the 2012 election; the next election will be a whole different dynamic with many candidates opting not to use the public system and the private donations coming back.

Ted Simons: That soon?

Bob Grossfeld: Yeah, depending on how the redistricting turns out. Again, the numbers show very clearly. This was a Republican system during the entire primaries, and the Democrats were kind of along for the ride and used it more in the general.

Stan Barnes: An important point bob is making. The reason there's the clean elections thing is that somebody didn't like the outcomes we were getting this state government and tried to change the system. The redistricting panel Bob references’ are the same thing. Both of those initiatives were motor funded and energized by the democratic side of the Arizona political spectrum and both turned out to be failures for the democratic side. There's a lot of frustration in Arizona today. The center left of the state politic because they're not winning elections and can't seem to change the rules to reset the victories for themselves.

Ted Simons: Last word on that.

Bob Grossfeld: Sure. [Laughter]

Bob Grossfeld: Take that!

Bob Grossfeld: No, look, big money is now going to get bigger and until you've run a campaign in a state where there's just no limits, you haven't seen big money yet. And I know Channel Eight is nonprofit but your colleagues in the profit sector are going to make a ton.

Ted Simons: Well, with that encouraging note, we'll end the discussion, thank you very much.

Dust Storm

  |   Video
  • The dust storm that reduced visibility to nearly zero and made thousands of people lose power.
  • Randy Cerveny - ASU Meteorology Professor
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: enviornment, dust,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. It looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. A massive dust storm a mile high and 100 miles wide with winds in excess of 50 miles an hour hit the valley last night. Visibility in many areas was reduced to near zero as the wall of dust charged northward from storms between Phoenix and Tucson. Thousands of APS and SRP customers lost power during the storm and many more had to deal with a thick coating of dust on homes and cars. Even longtime valley residents were hard pressed to remember a dust storm of that magnitude. My goodness. Here now to talk about what causes these kinds of storms is Randy Cerveny, an Arizona State University president's professor in the school of geographical sciences and urban planning. Thanks for joining us.
Randy Cerveny: Thank you.

Ted Simons: How unusual was that storm last night?

Randy Cerveny: We haven't seen anything like that for a couple of decades. The amount of dust was reminiscent when the valley was much, much smaller and before we paved over and put houses and shopping centers in. The desert winds were able to come closer to the valley. Very much like last night. We hadn’t seen that because of the growth of the valley.
Ted Simons: A sign of the recession right there?
Randy Cerveny: Exactly. The weird thing is - given the recession and the fact that people have a lot of abandoned houses and lots and this type of thing, there was a dust supply available for those storms to come through.

Ted Simons: Wow, ok. How do dust storms start?

Randy Cerveny: Well, what you have to have is a mature thunderstorm. Down by Tucson last night there was a series of big thunderstorms that caused street flooding around oracle and Tucson. And as those storms die, their air comes crashing to the ground and spreads out as a bomb as it hits grounds, it picks up the dust.

Ted Simons:Is there a flashpoint for what we saw? At one point, was that just a little cloud of dust?

Randy Cerveny: Yeah, it was a small thunderstorm building up and producing rain over a given area and as it collapsed on itself and came crashing to the ground, it creates that wind.

Ted Simons: And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, just like an avalanche?

Randy Cerveny: Right, as long as it has a supply of dust. And it still had the dust to maintain itself to Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Now, do you usually see these bigger dust storms earlier in the monsoon?

Randy Cerveny: Right because as the atmosphere gets moister, we'll see more rain, the first part of the monsoon season we call dry season, because it's the storms -- the rain kind of evaporates before it hits the ground and we're left with the wind. As we get later on in the month, we'll have more true thunderstorms with rain and lightning and hail than type of thing.

Ted Simons: Usually, it seems to me from what I remember, you got a dust storm and often a storm coming in after it. We didn't get that last night.

Randy Cerveny: Probably within the next few weeks, we'll have those storms with the rain behind it and then by the end of the month, just the rain.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Anywhere else in the country do we see these dust storms?

Randy Cerveny: You can have them occasionally in Texas and in the Great Plains during big droughts. In the 1930s, when we had the dust bowl days. Those were simply the same process. Storms that were dry having the air coming out and smashing into the ground and picking up the soil left over from the dust bowl days.

Ted Simons: And these are called Haboobs, because they're walls of dust. In the 19 30, they had the same Haboobs.

Randy Cerveny: They called them Black Blizzards, because the amount of soil they had in the Great Plains in Oklahoma and Kansas and Nebraska, dark in color and there was literally a black wall as opposed to the brown wall, the desert sands we had last night.
Ted Simons: Compare what we had last night to what happens in the Middle East.

Randy Cerveny: Very, very similar. The same kind of process is in place there. Those kind of storms are the same kind of heat generated, we call them convective thunderstorms that occurred here, last night. And as they die away, they put out the blast and our soldiers probably coming back from places like Iraq and Afghanistan felt at home because that was the same kind of storm they get there.

Ted Simons: How likely is it that you have a pretty -- let's say instead of a monster storm, a big storm? A big dust storm followed by a big dust storm. I know the monsoon seems to take off a night. Same with dust storms?

Randy Cerveny: Yeah, today we had a hazy day. A lot of dust suspended in the atmosphere. That tends to stabilize out the atmosphere. You don't get the strong surface heating you need to create a thunderstorm.

Ted Simons: The dust we saw today, that stuff is hanging around from last night?

Randy Cerveny: Exactly.

Ted Simons: Last question. You've been here for a while. You said in decades -- rank this thing. How impressive was this storm last night?

Randy Cerveny: I'd have to go back to the Glendale storm in '96 when all of the houses on the West side of the valley -- that was probably in terms of intensity, the last really big storm of this magnitude.

Ted Simons: And shouldn't see anything of that magnitude again or --
Randy Cerveny: Mother Nature likes to roll the dice. Occasionally it rolls snake eyes twice in a row.
Ted Simons: Good to have you on. Thanks for joining us.
Randy Cerveny: My pleasure.