Posts Tagged ‘Asteroids’

Brian Cox Reveals Great Cthulhu on Pluto

June 27, 2019

Brian Cox’s astronomy series, The Planets, shown on BBC 2, came to an end on Tuesday. After taking the viewer on a tour of the solar system and its creation and history, looking at Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, it finished by looking at the planets in the freezing depths of space almost at its limits – Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the various other dwarf planets believed to have come in from the Kuiper Belt, like Quaeor, Varuna, Eris, and one of the strangest objects discovered in the group, Ultima Thule. This last has a dumb-bell shape, formed by two spherical asteroids collided and fused. It also showed some of the spectacular photographs sent back by recent NASA probes into that almost unimaginably remote part of the Solar system.

Far from being a featureless ball of ice, Pluto was shown to be a world of mountains, with craters like the Moon and a heart-shaped plain. This was believed to have been created through liquid water welling up from beneath its icy crust, smoothing over any impact craters on the surface. And one of these topographical features had a name to delight fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s SF/Horror fiction: Cthulhu Macula. Of course, the cold, dim, icy edge of the solar system is very suitable for a place named after one of the malign cosmic gods of the Cthulhu mythos, the Great Old Ones, who seeped down from the stars. Like Great Cthulhu himself, sleeping in his house in the sunken island of R’lyeh in the Pacific, they are dormant, just waiting their chance to return and once again subdue humanity to their hideous power. It also shows how there must be at least one person in NASA, if not the rest of the Astronomical Union, who’s into Lovecraft.

But there’s another, historical reason why this part of Pluto should have been named after one of Lovecraft’s monstrous fictional creations. One of the evil extraterrestrial races in his short stories is the Fungi from Yuggoth, otherwise known as Pluto. These are space travelling giant insects, at least in appearance, who have established bases on Earth. They are masters of surgery. Unable to bring their agents to their homeworld complete, they surgically remove their brains, keeping them in a suitable life-support container when they fly through the depths of space. Lovecraft wrote the story in which they make their appearance the year Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and so wrote the newly discovered world into the story.

The Planets has been an excellent series, not least for its computer recreations of scenes from the solar system’s remote past. It also had a fitting choice of band for its signature music: Muse. The Bournemouth band have written a series of hits about space and physics, like ‘2nd Law’, ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, while the video for ‘Sing For Absolution’ had them as astronauts fleeing an Earth in the grip of a new Ice Age, to travel into a future when the Sun is hotter and the Earth a burned cinder.

I don’t know if there will ever be a crewed mission to Pluto. Given that it’s five decades since we put men on the Moon, and are only now considering returning there, it’s not going to be any time soon. And I really doubt that we will find Great Cthulhu himself there when we do. Perhaps that’s what was need to keep up interest in space exploration: we should have found Cthulhu there, in his city where the angles are wrong, waiting for when the stars are right.

Ia! Ia! Cthulhu R’lyeh ftagn!

 

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Lembit Opik Goes through the Papers on RT: Loss of International Agencies, Cruelty to Animals and Tory Austerity Deaths

November 22, 2017

This is another great piece from RT. It’s their version of that section on the British mainstream news shows, like Andrew Marr and the morning news, where they go through the papers with a guest commenting on stories of interest. In this piece from RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi’s guest is Lembit Opik, the former Lib Dem MP for one of the Welsh constituencies. Opik lost his seat at the election some time ago. Before then he was jocularly known as ‘the Minister for Asteroids’ by Private Eye, because his grandfather was an astronomer from one of the Baltic Countries, and Opik himself took very seriously the threat of asteroid Armageddon in the 1990. I can remember meeting him at a talk on ‘Asteroid Impacts’ one year at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, where he and the other panellists, including Duncan Steele, an Australian astronomer who now teaches over here urged the world’s governments to set up an early warning system to defend Earth from such catastrophes.

Here, Opik picks out the stories from the papers about how Britain has lost its position as the seat, or with a member on, three international regulatory agencies as a result of Brexit. We no longer have a candidate sitting at the International Court of Justice. The European Medical Agency will go to Amsterdam, and the European Banking Authority will go to Paris. Opik makes the point that all these agencies are leaving Britain, as there’s no point in them being here if we’re not in the EU.

There’s a bit of lively, spirited disagreement between Opik and Rattansi, which doesn’t seem to be entirely serious. And in fact, the tone of their conversation makes me wonder if they didn’t have quite a good lunch with liquid refreshment. Rattansi is something of a ‘Leave’ supporter, and says in reply that they can go. We don’t want them. And perhaps if the International Court of Justice actually worked, we could prosecute some of those responsible for war crimes.

Opik’s next story is about a ruling by the Tories that animals don’t feel pain, and have no emotions. Which he points out will amaze anyone, who’s ever had a dog or seen one howl. He and Rattansi then comment about how this is all about the Tories trying to make it easier for themselves to go fox hunting, and for Trump and his children to kill more animals.

Opik then goes on to a funnier story, which nevertheless has a serious point. Documents released to Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that Britain lobbied Brazil over obtaining the rights for Shell and BP to drill for oil in more of the Brazilian rainforest. This is a serious issue. What makes it funny is that the government tried to redact the information. However, they got it wrong, and instead of blacking out the embarrassing pieces of information, they highlighted them instead in yellow marker. Which they then sent to Greenpeace’s head of operations. Opik then goes on to make the very serious point that this is information, that the government was trying to hide from us.

The last story is from the Independent. It’s about the finding by one of the peer-reviewed British medical journals that the Tories’ austerity policy is responsible for 120,000 deaths, in what has been described as ‘economic murder’. Opik’s sceptical of this claim, as he says he’s seen stats misused like this before. Rattansi counters in reply by saying that it does come from a peer-reviewed medical journal. Opik does, however, accept that Tory austerity policies have harmed some people, but is sceptical whether its 120,000.

These reports show that Britain is losing its influence on the world stage as a result of voting to leave the European Union. There’s even the possibility that we will lose our place on the UN Security Council if Scotland breaks away. It’s also interesting to hear Rattansi remind Opik that David Davis, the Tory MP, claimed that Britain wouldn’t lose her position as the base for various international agencies and ruling bodies if we left the EU. This is another failed prediction from the Tories. Or another lie, if you prefer.

As for the Conservatives ruling that animals don’t feel pain, the Independent states that this is ‘anti-science’. Absolutely. I think anyone, who has ever kept a pet knows that animals do feel pain, and do have emotions. Or at least, creatures like birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. My guess is that they’ve passed this ruling not just as a way of making the return of fox hunting easier, but as part of an attack on a whole range of animal rights legislation, which they probably see as a burden on farming and industry. Like whatever legislation there is protecting the wellbeing of farm animals or regulating vivisection. And it is very definitely an ‘anti-science’ ruling. It seems that new discoveries are being made regularly showing how animal cognition and mental abilities are much more sophisticated than we previously believed. For example, crows are able to make and use tools. They’ll use sticks to open tin cans, for example. This amazed scientists when they first discovered it, as tool use was previously considered to be confined to primates. And in yesterday’s I there was a report on the finding by scientists that sheep can recognise human faces. And yes, the I has also carried several stories over the years about how scientists have found that dogs really do have emotions. When I read these, my reaction was ‘No sh*t, Sherlock!’ It’s very obvious that dogs do have emotions. But not, apparently, to the baying anti-science morons in the Tory party.

Mike put up the story about medical researchers finding that Tory policies have killed 120,000 people in the UK. I don’t entirely blame Opik for being sceptical, as there have been similar claims made that have been vastly inflated. However I don’t doubt that this is true in this case. We have over a hundred thousand people forced to use food banks, and millions of people living in ‘food insecure’ households, where they don’t know when they’ll eat again. Even if poverty and starvation do not directly cause their deaths, they are a contributing cause by leaving them vulnerable to other factors, such as disease or long-term illness, hypothermia and so on. And there are at least 700 people, who have been directly killed by the Tories’ austerity. These people died of starvation, or diabetic comas when they could not afford to keep their insulin in a fridge, or in despair took their own lives. They’ve been commemorated and their cases recorded by Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Mike at Vox Political, and the great peeps at DPAC.

Many of these poor souls actually left notes behind saying that they were killing themselves because they couldn’t afford to live.

But the DWP has refused to accept it, and blithely carries on repeating the lie that there’s no link between their deaths and austerity. And certainly not with the murderous sanctions system introduced by David Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith.

Rattansi was right about the failure of the International Court of Justice to prosecute the war criminals, who led us into the Iraq invasion and other wars in the Middle East. But nevertheless, there was an attempt to have Bush, Blair and their fellow butchers and liars hauled before international justice for their crimes against humanity. A group of British, Greek and Canadian lawyers and activists tried to bring a prosecution, and the lawyer in charge of looking into the case was, at least initially, interested. Then American exceptionalism won out once again, and the US placed pressure on the court to throw out the case.

Being tried for war crimes is just something that happens to other, lesser nations, you see.

If there were any true, international justice, Blair and the rest of New Labour and Bush’s vile neocons would find themselves in the dock, like the other genocides and mass-murderers who’ve been punished. And I’d just love to see Cameron, Smith, Damian Green, Esther McVie and Theresa May join them for their ‘chequebook genocide’ against the disabled.

But unfortunately that ain’t going to happen. However, we can at least get them out before they kill many more people.

BBC 2 Programme on ’21st Century Race for Space’ Next Tuesday

August 30, 2017

Here’s news of yet another BBC programme on space exploration and science. Next Tuesday, 5th September 2017, physicist, broadcaster and massive Carl Sagan fan Dr. Brian Cox will present a programme, The 21st Century Race for Space, on BBC 2 at 9.00 in the evening, on the private companies planning to take humanity into the High Frontier. Among the scientists and engineers he interviews in the programme are Richard Branson and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

As a new age of interplanetary exploration dawns, it is private companies and their maverick owners who are planning to finance space tourism, asteroid mining and even colonies on Mars. Professor Brian Cox investigates the technical challenges that could stop these billionaires achieving their dreams and also finds out how they hope to overcome the daunting obstacles to human space travel. Sir Richard Branson is among the stargazers explaining how they plan to fly through the heavens. (p. 76).

Another piece about the programme on the previous page, page 75, by David Butcher, also adds the following

When the likes of Richard Branson or Amazon founder Jeff Bezos enthuse about space travel it’s easy to be skeptical. But when Brian Cox meets both billionaires for this engaging look at “the prospect of us becoming a space-faring civilization” he comes away convinced by their vision, their desire to push boundaries and to make sci-fi stuff happen.

And for us, it’s hard to see the various hangars and labs and prototypes and launches and not get the feeling that space tourism, mining on asteroids and trips to Mars really aren’t that far off.

Cox is a good guide, leaning towards the deeper questions implicit in the subject. Ultimate, one designer argues, space travel is about “building life insurance for the species.” Though you hope we won’t need it.

That snippet also has a photo of Cox and with the space scientist, Brian Lillo, in space suits outside a Mars Society Research Station in Utah, ‘exploring the Red Planet’.

I went to a symposium 17 years ago on space tourism at the British Interplanetary Society’s headquarters in London. There are no end of really great ideas, and very motivate, intelligent people out there planning and discussing ways to take people up into the Deep Black for their holidays. One of the scientists, reviewing previous spacecraft designs going back to the early days of spaceflight, showed how sophisticated some of these were. He made the case that we’re actually decades behind schedule in our ability to explore and commercially exploit space and its resources.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy

April 22, 2017

This is another couple of videos from the redoubtable Martin Kennedy showcasing the amazing work of yet another space and Science Fiction artist, David A. Hardy. Hardy is one of the longest running space and SF artist working. The entry on him in Stuart Holland’s Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History, runs:

David Hardy’s introduction to astronomical illustration was a somewhat rushed affair. In 1954, as a mere 18-year-old, he was commissioned to produce eight black and white illustrations for a book by legendary UK astronomer Patrick Moore: Suns, Myths, and Men. He had just five days to create them before British national service-conscription-required him to join the Royal Air Force. The commission was all the more remarkable as Hardy had only painted his first piece of astronomical art four years previously, inspired by the work of Chesley Bonestell.

Since those early days, Hardy (1936-) has garnered numerous awards for artwork that spans the science fiction/hard science divide. Born in Bourneville, Birmingham, in the UK, he honed his talents painting chocolate boxes for Cadbury’s. By 1965 he had become a freelance illustrator, beginning a career that resulted in covers for dozens of books and magazines, both factual, such as New Scientist, Focus, and various astronomical publications, for which he also writes; and SF, including Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. 1972 saw the publication of Challenge of the Stars, which Hardy not only illustrated but co-wrote with Patrick Moore (the book was updated in 1978 as New Challenge of the Stars). A bestseller, it joined the select pantheon of book that influenced a new generation of up-and-coming astronomical artists.

By now, Hardy’s work was receiving international recognition, and in 1979 he was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Tow years later, another book followed, Galactic Tours, which as the name suggests is a “factitious” guidebook for the interstellar tourist. As a result of the book, travel company Thomas Cook approached Hardy about becoming a consultant on the future of tourism in space-long before Richard Branson had planned Virgin’s conquest of the stars.

Hardy has written an SF novel, Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds; worked on the movie The Neverending Story, and on TV (Cosmos, Horizon, The Sky at Night, Blake’s Seven), and produced record covers for – unsurprisingly – Holst’s The Planets and for bands such as Hawkwind, the Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.

In 2004, Hardy’s long-standing partnership with Patrick Moore culminated in the award-winning Futures, in which the two explored the changing perceptions of space exploration since they first collaborated in the ’50s, the ’70s (the era of Challenge of the Stars) and into the 21st century. Artistically, Hardy has also embraced the growing digital trend that started in the approach to the new millennium. While still painting in acrylic and oil, he now uses Photoshop as a matter of course.

In March 2003, Hardy was paid perhaps the ultimate accolade an astronomical artist can receive: he had an asteroid [13329] named after him. Discovered ini September, 1998, it was christened Davidhardy=1998 SB32-high praise indeed!
(P. 130).

Several of the paintings in the video come from the Challenge of the Stars and its updated version.

The videos also include his cover illustration for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – the History of Man’s Colonisation of Mars, which is another ‘future history’, this time of the terraforming of the Red Planet.

I have to say that I’m really impressed he also worked on Blake’s 7. This was low-budget British SF, but it had some create scripts and a really beautiful spaceship in The Liberator. And I would far rather go into space on something designed by Hardy, and operated by Thomas Cook, than by Branson.

Organic Material Found on Asteroid Ceres

February 25, 2017

This is fascinating, as Star Trek’s Mr Spock would put it. Scientists at NASA have found organic molecules on the surface of the asteroid, Ceres. They can’t tell at the moment what these molecules are, but they believe they’re similar to Kerisite, and came from within the planetoid, rather than being carried to it by a comet striking its surface.

This short video from D News discusses the recent finding, pointing out that this provides further evidence to support the possibility that life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Ceres is the largest of the asteroids, or minor planets, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Most of them are quite small, and have been rightly dubbed ‘flying mountains’. Ceres, however is about 500 miles in diameter.

There has been evidence before that the organic molecules forming the building blocks of life exist in the asteroid belt. These chemicals have been found in meteorites that have landed on Earth. However, with some of these the evidence has been extremely debatable. One of these meteors came down in Orgueoil in France. However, the organic molecules they found may have had a far more mundane origin, as the person, who’d discovered it had stored it in his fridge. I think it had got covered in butter, amongst other things.

I found another video on this discovery, which suggested that there may also be an internal ocean on Ceres, and that the organic molecules on its surface may indicate that it has life, even of only a very primitive kind, underneath in its oceans. This would be, in the words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, ‘amazingly amazing!’ if true. I suspect there isn’t such an ocean and no life there either, but we won’t know for sure until this is investigated further.

Space Scientist John S. Lewis on Prosperity and the Colonisation of the Asteroid Belt

December 27, 2016

I found this really interesting, optimistic passage below in John S. Lewis’ Mining the Sky (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley 1997).

John S. Lewis is the Professor of Planetary Sciences and Codirector of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Subtitled, Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets, the book discusses the ways the immense mineral wealth of the solar system and the access it gives to the energy available from the Sun through solar power can be exploited through the colonisation of the solar system with present-day space technology, or developments from it that can reasonably be expected. The chapter ‘The Asteroid Belt: Treasure Beyond Measure’ describes the vast resources of the tiny, rocky worldlets of that part of the solar system, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not only does he describe the various metals and other minerals available there, but he also discusses the vast increase in personal wealth that would be given to nearly everyone on Earth if the money gained from the mining of these minerals were shared out equally.

I do not want to leave the impression that enough mineral wealth exists in the asteroid belt to provide $7 billion for each person on Earth. That would not be fair. In fact, this estimate completely ignores the value of all th other ingredients of asteroids besides iron. We know, for example, that for every ton of iron in the asteroids, there’s 140 pounds of nickel. That comes to about $6 billion worth of nickel. Meteorite metals contain about 0.5 percent cobalt, which sells for about $15 a pound. That gives another $26 billion each. The platinum-group metals, which sell for about $460 per troy ounce ($15 per gram, or $6,800 per ound) make up about fifteen parts per million of meteorite metal. That comes to another $1.6 X 10 X 20, which is $32 billion per person. So far that is about $72 billion each, and we are not close to done. Add in gold, silver, copper, manganese, titanium, the rare earths, uranium, and so on, and the total rises to over $100 billion for each person on Earth.

It appears that sharing the belt’s wealth among five billion people leads to a shameless level of affluence. Each citizen, assuming he or she could be persuaded to work a forty-hour week, could spend every working hour for 70 years counting $100 bills at the rate of one per second (that’s $360,000 per hour) and fail to finish counting this share of the take. If we were instead to be satisfied with an average per capita wealth comparable to that in the upper economic classes of the industrialised nations today, roughly $100,000 per person, then the resources of the belt would suffice to sustain a million times as many people on Earth. These 10 to the power of 16 people could all live as well as ninety-fifth percentile American of the late twentieth century. With recycling and an adequate source of power, this immense population is sustainable into the indefinite future. The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is not to generate insane levels of personal wealth for the charter members; the best use is to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all-human beings. People embody intelligence, by for the most precious resource in the universe and one in terribly short supply. (p. 196).

Now clearly, this is the ideal situation, presented without the risks and costs of actually reaching the asteroid belt and extracting the wealth bound up in its rocks. I also believe that in practice, much of that wealth would also be consumed by the mining companies or terrestrial government agencies responsible for the belt’s commercial exploitation. But it is refreshing to see humans viewed not as a cost in the process of production, which needs to be eliminated as much as possible, but as a valuable and indispensable resource, which needs to be used in the process of exploration and commercial exploitation as much as possible, and handsomely rewarded for its contribution.

On the next page, Lewis also describes the advantages of solar power for the future miners and colonists over fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

But wait a minute! Why not use solar power? The Sun pumps out power at the prodigious rate of 4 X 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, equivalent to 4 X 10 to the power of 26 watts. Our supercivilisation needs 10 to the power of 19 watts to keep going. The Sun is pumping out forty million times as much power as we need! But what do we need to do to capture and use that energy? The simplest answer (not necessarily the best-there may be even more desirable options that we have not thought of yet) is to use vast arrays of solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical power. If the cells have an efficiency of about 20 percent, similar to the best commercial cells made at present, then each square meter of cell area exposed to the Sun near Earth’s orbit would generate 270 watts of electrical power continuously. We would need thirty-seven billion square kilometers of solar cells to provide our power needs, an area comparable to the total surface area of our habitats. At about 0.1 grams per square centimeter for the solar cells, we would need about 3.7 X 10 to the power of 19 grams of silicon to make the cells and perhaps three times as much metal to provide the supports and wires for the power-collection system. The asteroids give us 4X10 to the power of 23 grams of silicon, more than ten thousand times the amount we need for this purpose. The cost of the solar power units is set by the need to construct a few square meters of solar cells per person. The cost would be about two hundred dollars per person at present prices, or a few dollars per person at future mass-production prices. That is not your monthly electric bill: it is a one-time-only expenditure to provide all the electric power you will need for the rest of your life.

All this reckons with 1997 technology. New types of high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or other exotic materials, combined with ultra-lightweight parabolic reflectors to collect and concentrate sunlight onto small areas of these cells, promise to perform much better than these highly conservative estimates. (pp. 197-8).

This is the solar power available for the asteroid colonies near Earth. In a later chapter, 14, Lewis discusses ‘Environmental Solutions for Earth’.

Lewis certainly isn’t against private industry in space. Indeed, in an imaginary scenario in one of the first chapters he has a future businessman enthusing about the profits to be gained from mining the Moon or other parts of the Solar system. But he’s clearly like many space visionaries in that he believes that humanity’s expansion into the cosmos will bring immense benefits in enriching and raising the personal quality of life for each individual as well as benefiting the environment down here on Earth.

But reading that paragraph on the benefits of solar power does show why some politicians, particularly in the Tory and Republican parties in Britain and America, who are the paid servants of the nuclear and fossil fuel companies, are so dead set against solar power, as well as other renewables. Quite simply, if it’s adopted, these industries immediately become obsolete, the obscene wealth enjoyed by their CEOs, senior management, and the aristocracy of Middle Eastern oil states, like Saudi Arabia, vanishes along with their political power. And the proles have access to cheaper power. Indeed, people using solar power today are actually able to reverse the usual norm slightly and sell power back to the grid.

No wonder the Tories are trying to shut it all down in favour of nuclear and fracking.

Vox Political on the Mail’s ‘Worst Crisis Since Abdication’

April 26, 2015

There’s been talk this week of Labour forming some kind of pact with the SNP. Some of this has come from the SNP themselves, who have been keen to show their voters that a vote for them will still leave Scotland with power in Westminster through a weakened Labour party forced into coalition with them. Sturgeon’s predecessor, Alex Salmond, was heard at one point making a joke that he was already writing Labour’s budget.

Much of this also comes from the Tories, who are trying to scare the electorate with the prospect of a Labour/SNP coalition raising taxes and breaking up the three-hundred year union between England, Wales and Scotland. This reached its most extreme point so far, when the Mail on Sunday quoted Theresa May as declaring that this was Britain’s greatest constitutional crisis since abdication.

Even the guests on Andrew Marr’s show this morning thought that this was going too far, and smacked of desperation by the Tories.

Mike over at Vox Political has this article on it, Mockery of May and the Mail: Worst crisis since when? Mike points out the irony of this headline. A coalition between the SNP and Labour, which Ed Miliband has said will not happen, is deemed by the Mail to be worse than the abdication of Edward VIII, a Nazi supporter. The same Daily Heil was that was run by a Nazi sympathiser with a hatred of Jews at the same time.

The twitterati have also found the Mail’s hysteria immensely funny, and have produced their own list of crises that are as bad or worse as the abdication. Like having to tell Jeremy Clarkson his dinner’s not ready. Or finding out that Button Moon wasn’t real. Even John Prescott cracked a joke at the paper’s expense, tweeting about how he had to eat fish and chips without vinegar.

Mike goes on to quote the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour, who said May was entitled to her opinion, but she was wrong to impugn the legitimacy of a free and fair election.

The cartoonist Gary Baker also stated that it was a good job May didn’t have real issues to deal with, like child abuse, otherwise her comments would seem puerile.

Mike’s article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/04/26/mockery-of-may-and-the-mail-worst-crisis-since-when/. Go there and see some of the things that count as a terrible crisis of the same magnitude as the abdication.

The Mail, of course, has a very long history of making hysterical claims about the effects of a Labour government. Remember how a decade ago there were reports of an asteroid out in space that was poised to smash into Earth, ending life as we know it? Private Eye spoofed the Mail by producing a mock Daily Mail headline declaring that due to the asteroid, house prices would plummet and Labour was to blame. Which pretty much describes the Mail’s fixation with mortgages, house prices and the Labour party.

Behind May’s comment there are some very sinister implications. By declaring a coalition between SNP and Labour a crisis of the same type as the abdication, as Patrick Wintour points out, she seems to imply that the results of an election between the two would be invalid. If that’s the case, then what is she implicitly suggesting? That the election result should be declared null and void? New elections held, until the ‘right’ party won, and the union was safe once again? Or perhaps she thinks that, in the event of such a coalition, Cameron, Farage and Clegg should seize power at the head of the army, and rule as a military junta? Thatcher was a big fan of General Pinochet after all, and Cameron strikes me as a man, who would just love to be Britain’s General Franco. And if the Scots ever voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence, would May then recommend that the army should be sent in to stop them seceding?

Now I don’t actually think the Tories believe any of this. It’s just rhetoric to scare the voters, just like all the scare stories in the past about Labour being really a front for the Communist party, ready to turn Britain into a Soviet satellite. Frederick Forsythe, one of Thatcher’s favourite novelists, wrote a book about that way back in the 1990s. Needless to say, Maggie liked it enormously, as it reinforced her own bonkers paranoid suspicions about the British Left.

The Soviet Union, alas for the Tories, has vanished along with the rest of the Communist bloc. And as most of the Russian oligarchs are now funding the Tories, they can’t run another Zinoviev letter scare, like they did with the Sun in 1987. So they’re reduced to running bizarre headlines like this in Daily Fail.

It’s ridiculous, but the superpatriots in the Tory party will believe it. Along with the Kippers. In a recent interview with the Scottish Herald, David Coburn, the controversial UKIP politico declared that living in Scotland was like Communist Czechoslovakia. Somehow, I can’t see anyone who really grew up in Communist Eastern Europe agreeing. Like the Czechs and Slovaks, who have come over here since their countries joined the EU.