Recently in Science Category

Organic chemistry

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I was reading something and this line jumped out at me:

The -78ºC is the temperature (-108° F) at which the reaction is run. Some reactions have to be run at very low temperatures. This is one of them. If you mix this stuff together at room temperature your internal organs would be found in several time zones.

That is a succinct way to put it. Not fun stuff to work with. Majored in Marine Biology in college (Boston University) so have done my share of organic chem stuff.

Quake in Idaho

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Felt as far away as British Columbia but did not feel it here. USGS page: M 6.5 - 72km W of Challis, Idaho

From Yahoo/AccuWeather:

Idaho hit by strong magnitude 6.5 earthquake
A preliminary magnitude 6.5 earthquake rattled Idaho on Tuesday afternoon with shaking felt all across the region.

This is the strongest earthquake to hit the region since a magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolted the area in 1983.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located approximately 78 miles (126 km) northeast of Boise.

No word as to any structural damage or injuries - it was shallow (10km) and 6.5 is enough to cause serious damage to unreinforced buildings.

Earthquake in Croatia

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Major (5.3) quake right in the capital city of Zagreb. From the Beeb:

Earthquake rocks Croatia's capital Zagreb
An earthquake has rocked Croatia's capital Zagreb, damaging buildings and leaving cars crushed by falling chunks of masonry.

A teenager is in a critical condition after a roof collapsed, local media say. The spire of the city's cathedral also snapped off.

After Sunday's tremor, Zagreb's mayor urged people to return to their homes given fears about the coronavirus.

The 5.3-magnitude quake is the largest to affect the city in 140 years.

Panicked residents ran out into the streets when it struck around 06:00 local time and were initially told to stay out by authorities.

"Keep your distance. Don't gather together. We are facing two serious crises, the earthquake and the epidemic," Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.

Cell phone video is already online:

The area is seismically active but the quakes are (thank God) not frequent. They had a major one in 1667 and a large one in 1880 - the 1880 quake was Magnitude 6.3. As the Magnitude scale is logarithmic, this one would have been ten times the strength of today's 5.3. Prayers going out to the people.

Whoops - earthquake in CA

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5.9 Mag offshore but the epicenter was only a touch under a mile deep (2.2km)
USGS website for the event is here: M 5.9 - 86km W of Petrolia, CA

From the Los Angeles Times:

Magnitude 5.9 quake strikes off the coast of Northern California
A magnitude 5.9 earthquake was reported Sunday evening at 7:59 p.m. Pacific time 60 miles from Fortuna, Calif., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake occurred 62 miles from Eureka, 65 miles from Myrtletown, 68 miles from Arcata and 70 miles from McKinleyville.

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

Last paragraph? Just saying that this one is unique and not tied to prior activity. 5.9 would cause some significant building damage if on dry land and only 2.2km deep.

An interesting finding - whale strandings

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From Current Biology:

Gray whales strand more often on days with increased levels of atmospheric radio-frequency noise
Relatively little is known about the cues whales use while migrating. Visual cues in the ocean are often limited, which may drive oceanic migrators to use other sensory modalities, such as the ubiquitous geomagnetic field [1]. While it is impractical to perform behavioral assays on whales, strandings have been recorded for decades, and may provide insight into whale migration. Many strandings document that the individual was neither ill nor injured and resumed normal activity following rescue [2, 3, 4]. It is therefore possible that a portion of these animals stranded due to navigational errors. Although many factors impact strandings (e.g. naval mid-frequency sonar, disease, etc.) [5], here we focus on whether strandings can be used to study the potential for magnetoreception in migratory whales. Previous studies have used spatial patterns in strandings to suggest the potential for magnetoreception in cetaceans [4,6]. We use 31 years of gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) stranding data (n = 186) to build on earlier work that found a positive relationship between strandings and sunspot counts [2,3]. Sunspots are strongly correlated with solar storms — sudden releases of high-energy particles from the sun that modify the geomagnetic field and thus have the potential to disrupt magnetic orientation behavior [7]. We examined relationships between strandings and two aspects of Earth’s magnetosphere altered by solar storms — radio frequency noise and displacements in the Earth’s magnetic field. Our results suggest that the increase in strandings under high solar activity is best explained by an effect on the sensor, not on the magnetic field itself.

A long paper but a well written one (this is just a brief excerpt). They used 31 years of data encompassing 186 strandings so this is not a small sample. It's our sun. It is nothing that we are doing, just a natural cause - our sun. Just like our climate is driven by our sun. Natural variation there too. Simple really.

Trailer - due to be released in September:

Used to vacation with my parents in Colorado in the 1960's and there was always weird stuff flying in the air then - things with lights making impossible accelerations, 90° turns, the like. Silent. My Dad always said they were Air Force experimental craft but was never sure of his explanation.

The movie's website is here: The Phenomenon - must see.

A bit of a quake to the North

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Off the coast of Bella Bella to the North of Vancouver Island - 4.6Mag at 2:17 last morning. No Tsunami forecast at this moment.

From Science Alert:

A Long-Lost Legendary Roman Fruit Tree Has Been Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds
Scientists have cultivated plants from date palm seeds that languished in ancient ruins and caves for 2,000 years.

This remarkable feat confirms the long-term viability of the kernels once ensconced in succulent Judean dates, a fruit cultivar lost for centuries. The results make it an excellent candidate for studying the longevity of plant seeds.

From those date palm saplings, the researchers have begun to unlock the secrets of the highly sophisticated cultivation practices that produced the dates praised by Herodotus, Galen, and Pliny the Elder.

It would be interesting to know if our taste buds have evolved as well. Interesting story and quite the bit of history coming to life. Tip of the hat to Bayou Renaissance Man for the link.

Now this is interesting - turbulence

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A complex behaviour turns out to have a very simple and elegent solution. From Quanta Magazine:

Mathematicians Prove Universal Law of Turbulence
Picture a calm river. Now picture a torrent of white water. What is the difference between the two? To mathematicians and physicists it’s this: The smooth river flows in one direction, while the torrent flows in many different directions at once.

Physical systems with this kind of haphazard motion are called turbulent. The fact that their motion unfolds in so many different ways at once makes them difficult to study mathematically. Generations of mathematicians will likely come and go before researchers are able to describe a roaring river in exact mathematical statements.

But a new proof finds that while certain turbulent systems appear unruly, they actually conform to a simple universal law. The work is one of the most rigorous descriptions of turbulence ever to emerge from mathematics. And it arises from a novel set of methods that are themselves changing how researchers study this heretofore untamable phenomenon.

A nice lay explanation at the site - the paper is a bit too much for my head. Pretty cool though...

Australia moves a bit

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Tectonics and GPS - some correction needed. From The Sydney Morning Herald:

NSW and Victoria just jumped 1.8 metres north
On New Year’s Day, NSW and Victoria jumped north by 1.8 metres – while the rest of the country remained firmly fixed in place.

No, you did not miss an earthquake. And no, we’re not seceding from the rest of the continent.

And the reason:

Australia sits atop one of the fastest-moving tectonic plates in the world. We move about seven centimetres north-east every year.

“That’s about the speed your hair or fingernails grow,” says NSW Surveyor General Narelle Underwood, who led NSW’s ‘jump’.

In the days of paper maps our tectonic drift did not pose a real problem. The continent might move but the distance from Melbourne to Sydney stayed the same. That meant Australia could get away with the slight inaccuracy that has crept in since we last set our coordinates in 1994.

But paper maps have gone the way of the dinosaurs; we use GPS now. And GPS notices.

A simple correction. Wonderful that we have gone from miles to fractions of an inch in just 40 years or so.

Junk Science - Rolling Stone

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Fracking oil releases huge amounts of radioactivity. Oh noooooooessssssss. A two-fer

First, from the Rolling Stone:

America’s Radioactive Secret

Excerpted from the article:

One day in 2017, Peter pulled up to an injection well in Cambridge, Ohio. A worker walked around his truck with a hand-held radiation detector, he says, and told him he was carrying one of the “hottest loads” he’d ever seen. It was the first time Peter had heard any mention of the brine being radioactive.

The Earth’s crust is in fact peppered with radioactive elements that concentrate deep underground in oil-and-gas-bearing layers. This radioactivity is often pulled to the surface when oil and gas is extracted — carried largely in the brine.

Second, from David Middleton writing at Watts Up With That:

“On the Cover of the Rolling Stone” #ExxonKnew: Earth Is Radioactive
This Rolling Stone article reads like the Josh “Gasland” Fox version of the #ExxonKnew fraud with funding from the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s very long, long-winded, loaded with anecdotal information and lots of teeth gnashing & wailing from environmentalists.

    1. The fact that Earth is radioactive has never been a secret.
    2. The radioactivity wasn’t discovered in crude oil. Rocks are radioactive. Shale is more radioactive than sandstone. The gamma ray log was developed to detect the difference between sandstone and shale.
    3. The safe disposals of wastewater, drilling mud, drill cuttings and other waste products are regulated by state and/or federal regulatory agencies. This is not something new, secret or mysterious.
    4. Operators who flout the regulations are punished.

The take-aways are that:
#1) - they have known about this radioactivity since at least 1927 when a sensor was invented which uses the shale's natural radioactivity to locate oil.
#2) - there is radioactivity but the quantities are vanishingly small. If you eat a banana, you are eating radioactivity - bananas are rich in Potassium - a vital mineral. Potassium contains a radioactive isotope (K-40) which is present in a 0.01% concentration and
#3) - radioactivity is normal. Too much of anything can be toxic - even drinking too much water can be fatal.

Another political hit-piece disguised as science reporting. Funded by the SPLC of all places - not good people.

Crap - sizable earthquake near Cuba

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No details as yet but a Mag 7.7 quake hit the ocean floor halfway between Cuba and Jamaica - 10km depth which is shallow enough to cause some real damage.

There was an earlier 4.6 quake for which no tsunami warning was issued but no word yet on this one. 7.7 is getting up there - do not forget that magnitude is on a logrithmic scale. Mag 4 is 1/10th of Mag 5, etc...

You can not have it both ways

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Two headlines - click on them to go to the article:

I will give you a hint. The first link is from CBS News. They are not quite CNN when it comes to pushing the progressive narrative but they are pretty close. Fake News indeed.

The second link is a paper published in the Journal of Polar Biology 

I think the actual reality should be pretty clear.

Looks like a good idea - they only have a few projects out there but it is a promissing start. From their home page:

Developing low-cost, open-source oceanographic hardware for researchers, educators, and citizen scientists
The tools necessary to study, explore, and understand the ocean are often inaccessible to the vast majority of ocean users. By nurturing a community of open-source hardware developers, scientists, and ocean stakeholders, we want to change that.

Whether you’re a researcher looking for alternatives to expensive scientific equipment, a citizen scientist interested in building a marine monitoring program, a fisherman exploring new tools to understand their catch, or an ocean enthusiast seeking new ways to interact with the sea, this community is for you.

Under each project, you will find links to resources, build guides, 3D-printer files, code repositories, and, eventually, databases. Each project section will also point you towards ways that you can help contribute to the project. This website serves as the community portal, but the action really happens in the Oceanography for Everyone GitHub repositories.

The ocean belongs to all of us. Let’s ensure that everyone has access to the tools needed to understand it.

Check back from time to time and see what they are developing. Looks interesting so far.

From the Canadian Broadcast Corporation:

School division apologizes after Christmas concert deemed 'anti-oil'
A Saskatchewan school division has apologized after parents raised concerns a Christmas concert last week had an anti-oil agenda.

On Thursday, the Oxbow Prairie Horizons School's annual concert featured a show titled: "Santa Goes Green."

This didn't sit will with some audience members, as Oxbow is a community where a good number of workers are in the mining and resource industries. In fact, the town's logo prominently contains a pumpjack.

Mike Gunderman, whose daughter was in the show, took to Facebook to express his concerns about the play, saying the concert was a "kick in the groin" to anyone working in the struggling oil industry. The post has since been shared more than 650 times.

And the official resoponse:

"There was no political agenda," said Audrey Trombley, chair of the division's Board of Trustees. "The teacher chose the song because of the rhythm and the beat, and thought the kids would like it."

Pants on fire. The teacher who did this needs to get suspended for a few weeks. A strong message needs to be sent. Science, not politics. Facts, not narrative.

A different Beetlejuice

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Something is up with Betelgeuse (no, not this one). From NASA's Spaceweather:

THE FAINTING OF BETELGEUSE: One day, perhaps in our lifetimes, perhaps 100,000 years from now, the red giant Betelgeuse will dim a little--and then explode. The supernova will rival the full Moon in the night skies of Earth and cast shadows after dark. This month, Betelgeuse has dimmed a little. So far it has not exploded. 

Betelgeuse caused a sensation among professional astronomers earlier this month when Edward Guinan of Villanova University and colleagues reported a significant "fainting" of the star. "[Betelgeuse] has been declining in brightness since October 2019, now reaching a modern all-time low of V = +1.12 mag on 07 December 2019 UT," they wrote. "Currently this is the faintest the star has been during our 25+ years of continuous monitoring."

Astronomers have long known that Betelgeuse is on the precipice of an energy crisis. It's about to run out of fuel in its core. When that happens, the star will collapse and rebound explosively, producing the first known supernova in the Milky Way since 1604. Experts in stellar evolution believe Betelgeuse could die at any time during the next 100,000 years--a blink of an eye on time scales of astronomy.

The current dimming did not herald that final blast. Betelgeuse is also a slow variable star, and this seems to be no more than an episode of slightly deeper-than-usual dimming. Orion remains in tact ... for now.

A super-nova would be spectacular. Not holding my breath though...

Interesting - plants making noise

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From Live Science:

Plants 'Scream' in the Face of Stress
In times of intense stress, people sometimes let out their angst with a squeal ⁠— and a new study suggests that plants might do the same.  

Unlike human screams, however, plant sounds are too high-frequency for us to hear them, according to the research, which was posted Dec. 2 on the bioRxiv database. But when researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel placed microphones near stressed tomato and tobacco plants, the instruments picked up the crops' ultrasonic squeals from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) away. The noises fell within a range of 20 to 100 kilohertz, a volume that could feasibly "be detected by some organisms from up to several meters away," the authors noted. (The paper has not been peer reviewed yet.)

Animals and plants might listen and react to the silent screams of plants, and perhaps humans could too, with the right tools in hand, the authors added. The idea that "sounds that  drought-stressed plants make could be used in precision agriculture seems feasible if it is not too costly to set up the recording in a field situation," Anne Visscher, a fellow in the Department of Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the U.K., told New Scientist.

Interesting and not unexpected. Especially interesting in that the range of 20 to 100 kHz is well within the range of cheap ($3 - $5) ultrasonic sensors so the tests can be easily duplicated although I do not particularly want to stress my 'maters - I want to keep them as healthy and as happy as possible.

I know that there had been a lot of earlier work (1980's) culminating in The Secret Life of Plants. It would be interesting to revisit these experiments with modern technology.

First they get Trump elected, now they are coming after Santa 😜 From Forbes:

Earth’s Magnetic North Pole Has Officially Moved (Toward Russia)
Earth’s magnetic north pole has been moving East at an unusually fast pace, heading from the Canadian Arctic toward Russia.

The rapid change of the magnetic poles has caused concern over navigation, GPS systems, military operations, etc.

The northern magnetic pole has been drifting toward Russia at a speed of 34 miles per year (55 kilometers per year) but has slowed recently to 25 miles per year (40 kilometers per year).

More on this from Popular Mechanics:

Magnetic North Pole Changes Time Zones, Just Keeps Drifting
Live Science says Earth’s magnetic field is still on the move, according to the latest report in a series that comes out every five years. The magnetic north pole has crossed the Prime Meridian in the newest update from the National Centers for Environmental Information and the British Geological Survey.

The magnetic poles have drifted and entirely changed places dozens of times in Earth’s history, but this time it seems to be happening very fast, and within a shorter overall time interval than it did in prehistory.

Kind of a big deal as it is our magnetoshphere that prevents the solar wind from blowing our atmospheric gasses out into space. It deflects the highly charged wind around our planet.

68 years ago today

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The first instance of practical electricity generation via nuclear power. I blogged about it a few days ago but it deserves remembering: Coming up on a bit of interesting history


It is also worth remembering that these first reactors have formed the basis for the designs of the reactors we use today - in other words, very very old designs All of the big reactor accidents we have had so far have been units based on these first designs - Three Mile Island, Windscale, Chernobyl, Fukushima

Just as personal technology has advanced exponentially in the last 30 years, designs for nuclear reactors have been developed as well - there are now designs that are walk-away safe, minimize the problem with long-lasting nuclear waste (much more efficient use of fuel) and are much cheaper to build (operate at STP - no pressure vessel needed).

All this and carbon-free too - what is not to love.

Say goodbye to the foot (survey)

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The United States just got 28.3 feet wider. From Associated Press:

US finally giving boot to official foot measurement
Change is afoot for the official measuring stick used to size up big places in America.

The reason? There are actually two different definitions of the 12-inch measurement known as a foot.

Some land surveyors use what’s known as the U.S. survey foot. Others use the definition that’s more accepted by the broader world: the international foot.

The difference between them is so tiny that you can’t see it with the naked eye on a 12-inch ruler. But over big distances, it matters. So, to reduce the chance for errors and confusion, the federal government has announced it’s finally giving the boot to the survey foot.

The international foot is the smaller one — adding about an eighth of an inch of difference when measuring a mile. That means the United States is 28.3 feet wider when measured using the international foot instead of the survey foot.

The change started in 1959, when the federal government mandated that everyone use the international foot but allowed surveyors to keep to the old U.S. survey foot for a while. That temporary reprieve has lasted 60 years, but it will finally end in 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced in October.

Surveyors in 40 U.S. states and territories still use the larger U.S. foot. The rest use the smaller international one.

“We have chaos,” says Michael Dennis, a project manager for NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey. Geodetics is surveying that takes into account the curve of the Earth. “This is a mess.”

Good news. Standards are wonderful - that is why we have so many of them. Bleagh...

The scientific journal Nature

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Looks like they got seriously WOKE.

Four days ago, they were whinging about the use of the word supreme when referring to quantum computing.
Now this - from Czech physicist Luboš Motl:

Nature's shocking "top ten" scientists
Fer137 has told us about an incredible list published at Nature

Nature's 10.

which is supposed to enumerate the most influential people in science of the year. As Alex correctly said, Nature basically became a new brand of toilet paper. How will they compare to Presto!?

Well, there have been numerous indications of this "evolution of purpose" of that journal but now they have jumped the shark, indeed.

As Nature openly admits, Ricardo Galvão was chosen for his being a Latin American "Amazon" activist and for his frictions with Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, whom the leftists at Nature consider politically incorrect. He clearly didn't do anything revolutionary in the science of forests or in biology in general. In fact, he is a physicist!

Victoria Kaspi was clearly chosen for her failure to be male in a field that is overwhelmingly advanced by males, astrophysics. You should look for "fast radio bursts" at Google Scholar to become sure that she isn't really a leader of this subfield. Even if you add CHIME, the name of her key experiment, to the query, it doesn't become better.

Nenad Šestan was chosen for the good old left-wing "atheist" reasons. This guy works on the fuzziness of "brain death" so he can take people from God, thus proving the ill-definedness of the religious concepts including death itself. This would be a preferred scientific topic of the leftists some 20 years ago but these days, it's no longer too hot. And incidentally, Nature just copied the name from the New York Times, a left-wing daily, that promoted Šestan in the summer. At any rate, he is one of the 3 or so actual star scientists in the list.

Sandra Díaz is a hot Venezulean model. OK, they meant this Sandra Díaz which is somewhat less pretty. She is both female and associated with the "biodiversity" hysteria. Clearly, no important advances in the "science of biodiversity" took place in the recent year or several years and she wasn't the key in those that took place earlier.

And there are six more "scientists" at the site. What is up with this once prestigious Scientific Journal and when will they return to the academic rigor for which they were renowned. Like I said in my post four days ago, they have fallen victim to O'Sullivan's Law and to Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy Sad really.

Coming up on a bit of interesting history

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68 years ago on December 20th, 1951, these lights were lit:


The story? From Nuclear

History of Nuclear power plants
Electricity was generated by a nuclear reactor for the first time ever on September 3, 1948 at the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the United States, and was the first nuclear power plant to power a light bulb. The second, larger experiment occurred on December 20, 1951 at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho in the United States. On June 27, 1954, the world’s first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid started operations at the Soviet city of Obninsk.The world’s first full scale power station, Calder Hall in England opened on October 17, 1956. The first full scale power station with a PWR-type reactor was a Shippingport Atomic Power Station, commisioned on May 26, 1958.

The electricity generated by the X-10 reactor was generated by thermoelectricity - a thermocouple. A few watts at best and not  enough to light a lightbulb let alone four 200 watt units. The Russian reactor was an open graphite core design which evolved into the RBMK design famous for the Chernobyl disaster.

I was only eight years old at the time but I remember Shippingport being a Very Big Deal - I toured the plant a few years later with a school group.

The very first reactor? That would be Enrico Fermi's Chicago Pile - from the University of Chicago:

How the first chain reaction changed science
The Atomic Age began at 3:25 p.m. on Dec. 2, 1942—quietly, in secrecy, on a squash court under the west stands of old Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.

Today, Henry Moore’s “Nuclear Energy” sculpture and the Mansueto Library occupy the area at the corner of Ellis Avenue and 57th Street where Enrico Fermi and his colleagues engineered the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction 70 years ago. Their experiment was a key step in the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

That initial chain reaction was too weak to power even a single light bulb. It nevertheless transformed the world, and the University of Chicago along with it, in a range of endeavors spanning physics, chemistry, interdisciplinary research, policy analysis, and nuclear medicine. Even in 1942, those present at the historic event sensed how influential their work would be.

There is some exciting research being done with new designs for commercial power. We know how to do it, we know how to process the waste materials and to render them harmless ( recycle them into new fuel and inert waste) but thanks to President Jimmy Carter, we are not allowed to so this. Still, we are heading in the right direction.

Our quiet sun

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Here is the post from Spaceweather:

SUNSPOTS BREAK A SPACE AGE RECORD: Solar Minimum is becoming very deep indeed. Over the weekend, the sun set a Space Age record for spotlessness. So far in 2019, the sun has been without sunspots for more than 270 days, including the last 33 days in a row. Since the Space Age began, no other year has had this many blank suns.

The previous record-holder was the year 2008, when the sun was blank for 268 days. That was during the epic Solar Minimum of 2008-2009, formerly the deepest of the Space Age. Now 2019 has moved into first place.

Solar Minimum is a normal part of the 11-year sunspot cycle. The past two (2008-2009 and 2018-2019) have been long and deep, making them "century-class" Minima. To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days.

Last week, the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel issued a new forecast. Based on a variety of predictive techniques, they believe that the current Solar Minimum will reach its deepest point in April 2020 (+/- 6 months) followed by a new Solar Maximum in July 2025. This means that low sunspot counts and weak solar activity could continue for some time to come.


We will see. We do not know enough about what is going on inside the sun so any forecast is just a roll of the dice.

The Deep Sea

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My major in college (Boston U) was Marine Biology and Physical Oceanography - I wanted to be another Jacques Cousteau right around the time that 30,000,000 other guys my age wanted to be him. No jobs, no money so dropped out. The first personal computers were starting to appear so got in on these.

Anyway, enough rambling - go here and scroll down. Keep scrolling. And scrolling. Wonderful website.

Things I Won't Work With

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Every so often, chemist Derek Lowe writes about especially "interesting" chemicals - today it is Bromine:

The Higher States of Bromine
Chemists have a familiarity with many elements and many compounds, from having worked with them or studied them in the literature. You get a feel for what’s “normal” and for what’s unusual, and there are quite a few degrees of the latter. Take compounds of bromine, for example. Most any working chemist will immediately recognize bromine (there are exceptions) because we don’t commonly encounter too many opaque red liquids with a fog of corrosive orange fumes above them in the container. Which is good. That’s bromine in oxidation state zero, elemental, and then you have bromide (oxidation state -1), one of the most common anions around. “Chlorides are rabble”, said Primo Levi in one of my favorite lines from The Periodic Table, and he was right about that, but bromides are not of much higher social standing. Every cation has a bromide salt, and it’s usually one of the cheaper ones in the catalog.

So far, so good. But bromine can also go up to +3 and +5 oxidation states, and there things start to get interesting. You can have various mixed-halogen things, all of which are reactive and toxic and are distinguished by their various degrees of vileness. And you can get all sorts of bromine-oxygen species, ranging from the pretty well-known ones like bromate ion (BrO3) all the way up to. . .well, to the stuff described in this new paper., from Konrad Seppelt at the Freie Universität Berlin. It contains a whole list of new compounds that send my chemical intuition completely off the rails.

I have no “feel” for them whatsoever except a strong desire never to prepare any of them. Prepare any of them? I don’t even want to make the starting material. You know you’re in for a bumpy ride when your work needs something like bromine fluorine dioxide (bromyl fluoride, BrO2F); no one can claim that they weren’t warned. There hasn’t even been a reliable synthesis of that stuff until now – Seppelt describes a new one, from the aforementioned sodium bromate, which is fine, and bromine pentafluoride, which is not fine, because it’s a hideous oxidizing and fluorinating agent fit to fluorinate you right into the afterlife and whose attempted use in liquid rocket propellent mixtures was abandoned because it was too foul to work with, and, oh yeah, redistilled pure hydrogen fluoride, which is also about as far from “fine” as you can get. The SI of the paper casually mentions that you can use double vacuum distillation in a metal line to get your HF sufficiently anhydrous for the reaction, and you can go ahead and get cranking on that without waiting for me to show up.

Heh - fun writing and great chemistry. More on the synthesis at the site.

Is there anything it can not do? Fertilize the plants of the world, provide an excellent source of heat, make diamonds and that is just scratching the surface. From the AAAS Science:

The next graphene? Shiny and magnetic, a new form of pure carbon dazzles with potential
A “happy accident” has yielded a new, stable form of pure carbon made from cheap feedstocks, researchers say. Like diamond and graphene, two other guises of carbon, the material seems to have extraordinary physical properties. It is harder than stainless steel, about as conductive, and as reflective as a polished aluminum mirror. Perhaps most surprising, the substance appears to be ferromagnetic, behaving like a permanent magnet at temperatures up to 125°C. The discovery, announced by physicist Joel Therrien of the University of Massachusetts in Lowell on 4 November here at the International Symposium on Clusters and Nanomaterials, could lead to lightweight coatings, medical products, and novel electronic devices.

Therrien’s talk elicited both excitement and caution among the dozens of researchers attending the meeting. “Once it is published and the work has been replicated by others, it will generate a lot of interest for sure,” says Qian Wang, an applied physicist at Peking University in Beijing. She notes that carbon is much lighter than other ferromagnetic elements such as manganese, nickel, and iron. Moreover, carbon is nontoxic in the body, she says. “If it can be magnetic, it could be very useful for making biosensors or drug-delivery carriers” that could be magnetically interrogated or directed to diseased tissues.

This has not been reproduced by another labrotory so the jury is still out but wow - if this pans out, it could be interesting. New technologies. AAAS is the American Association for the Advancement of Science - good people.

A transformation from reclaimed agricultural land back to salt marsh. From the Stanwood-Camano News:

Leque Island reopens to public
Leque Island has reopened to the public after a dramatic restoration project.

Eide Road is now open and leads to a new 17-car parking that features access a 0.75-mile new trail on the 15.5-foot high bern — about 5.5 feet higher than the previous dike. The berm is designed to survive a worst-case scenario event, such as a storm during a king tide. The trail features benches, interpretive signs and places to launch kayaks.

A new kayak boat launch was also added at the Davis Slough parking lot along Highway 532. Crews will next install interpretive and kiosk signs in the coming weeks.

It has been fascinating to watch the progress the last six months. Salt Marshes are an incredibly dense and active ecological niche - home to birds, insects, crustations and fish, algae and bacteria, Eukaryotes and Prokaryotes. A living soup and it is turtles all the way down. Very important to have and I am glad that we are restoring them. Do not look like much but when you take a closer look, they are teaming with life.

From Quanta Magazine:

Neutrinos Lead to Unexpected Discovery in Basic Math
After breakfast one morning in August, the mathematician Terence Tao opened an email from three physicists he didn’t know. The trio explained that they’d stumbled across a simple formula that, if true, established an unexpected relationship between some of the most basic and important objects in linear algebra.

The formula “looked too good to be true,” said Tao, who is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, a Fields medalist, and one of the world’s leading mathematicians. “Something this short and simple — it should have been in textbooks already,” he said. “So my first thought was, no, this can’t be true.”

Then he thought about it some more.

Well written and a really interesting problem. Fun time to be alive.

From Vice:

There’s Growing Evidence That the Universe Is Connected by Giant Structures
The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies strewn across the universe. Their variety is stunning: spirals, ring galaxies shaped like star-studded loops, and ancient galaxies that outshine virtually everything else in the universe.

But despite their differences, and the mind-boggling distances between them, scientists have noticed that some galaxies move together in odd and often unexplained patterns, as if they are connected by a vast unseen force.

Galaxies within a few million light years of each other can gravitationally affect each other in predictable ways, but scientists have observed mysterious patterns between distant galaxies that transcend those local interactions.

There is so much that we do not know. I love it! One example:

For instance, a study published in The Astrophysical Journal in October found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away.

And where it gets strange:

The truth behind synchronized galaxies could change everything
The secret of these synchronized galaxies may pose a threat to the cosmological principle, one of the basic assumptions about the universe. This principle states that the universe is basically uniform and homogenous at extremely large scales. But the “existence of correlations in quasar axes over such extreme scales would constitute a serious anomaly for the cosmological principle,” as Hutsemékers and his colleagues note in their study.

However, Hutsemékers’ cautioned that more of these structures would need to be spotted and studied to prove that this is a serious wrinkle in the cosmological principle. “Other similar structures are needed to confirm a real anomaly,” he said.

One anomaly coming right up. Anything else?  This is a fun time to be alive.

As shit keeps getting stranger

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A new state of matter - from Phys Org:

Physics experiment with ultrafast laser pulses produces a previously unseen phase of matter
Adding energy to any material, such as by heating it, almost always makes its structure less orderly. Ice, for example, with its crystalline structure, melts to become liquid water, with no order at all.

But in new experiments by physicists at MIT and elsewhere, the opposite happens: When a pattern called a charge density wave in a certain material is hit with a fast laser pulse, a whole new charge density wave is created—a highly ordered state, instead of the expected disorder. The surprising finding could help to reveal unseen properties in materials of all kinds.

This will open up some areas for exploration. A fun time to be alive.

Yesterday's transit of Mercury

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Great video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) (22,000 miles up):

The Transit of Mercury seen from Space from Earth to Sky Calculus on Vimeo.

Cody's Lab shows what really happened:

Worst racist ever - President Trump

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From the San Diego, CA FOX News affiliate:

NASA’s ‘Hidden Figures’ to receive highest civilian award
Four African American women known as the “Hidden Figures” who worked at NASA during the Space Race are being awarded Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian award in the U.S.

President Donald Trump signed into law the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act on Friday.

Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, as well as mathematician Katherine Johnson and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan, were awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

Vaughan and Jackson, who passed away, were both awarded posthumously.

A fifth gold medal was granted in honor of all women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race.

A bit about their stories in the article - an amazing history. One which President Obama had eight years to award but no. He was more interested in being divisive than to unify us.

Here is a ten minute documentary parody:

Watch those roaming charges

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From the Beeb:

Migrating Russian eagles run up huge data roaming charges
Russian scientists tracking migrating eagles ran out of money after some of the birds flew to Iran and Pakistan and their SMS transmitters drew huge data roaming charges.

After learning of the team's dilemma, Russian mobile phone operator Megafon offered to cancel the debt and put the project on a special, cheaper tariff.

The team had started crowdfunding on social media to pay off the bills.

The birds left from southern Russia and Kazakhstan.

The journey of one steppe eagle, called Min, was particularly expensive, as it flew to Iran from Kazakhstan.

Min accumulated SMS messages to send during the summer in Kazakhstan, but it was out of range of the mobile network. Unexpectedly the eagle flew straight to Iran, where it sent the huge backlog of messages.

The price per SMS in Kazakhstan was about 15 roubles (18p; 30 US cents), but each SMS from Iran cost 49 roubles. Min used up the entire tracking budget meant for all the eagles.

The group crowdfunded and raised over 100,000 roubles and the carrier to agree to the lower tariff. Quite the broad distribution:


And it's official - solar minimum

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We still have 74 days until the end of the year but it's looking like we are setting a record. From SpaceWeather:

As of today, the sun has been blank (no sunspots) 74% of the time in 2019. This is significant because the previous record for spotlessness during the Space Age was 73% set in 2008. If low sunspot counts continue apace, 2019 could end up as the deepest Solar Minimum of the modern era.

Sunspots are an excellent proxy for solar output. Less sunlight, colder temperatures. SImple as that.

Tracking space debris - Leo Labs

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From Tech Crunch:

Leo Labs and its high-fidelity space radar track orbital debris better than ever — from New Zealand
Ask anyone in the space business and they’ll tell you that orbital debris is a serious problem that will only get worse, but dealing with it is as much an opportunity as it is a problem. Leo Labs is building a global network of radar arrays that can track smaller debris than we can today, and with better precision — and the first of its new installations is about to start operations in New Zealand.

There are some 12,000 known debris objects in low Earth orbit, many of which are tracked by the U.S. Air Force and partners. But they only track debris down to 10 centimeters across — meaning in reality there may be hundreds of thousands of objects up there, just as potentially destructive to a satellite but totally unknown.

And the Leo in their name stands for Low Earth Orbit - their mission statement:

LeoLabs’ mission is to secure commercial operations in low Earth orbit (LEO). As the LEO ecosystem around our planet gets more congested, the risk of collisions rises, and the need to map the orbits of spacecraft, satellites and space debris grows with every launch. Meanwhile, new generations of commercial spacecraft, such as small and cube satellites, are causing a dramatic increase in imaging, communications and human spaceflight prospects.

LeoLabs was founded to address these risks today. With a worldwide network of ground-based, phased-array radars that enable high resolution data on objects in LEO, LeoLabs is uniquely equipped to offer foundational mapping data and services to mitigate the risks of collisions. These services include rapid orbit determination, early operational support, and ongoing orbit awareness. LeoLabs is a venture-funded company based in Menlo Park, CA, and provides its services to commercial satellite operators, government regulatory and space agencies, and satellite management services firms.

This is much better than waiting for NASA to do it - Leo Labs will do a high-tech lean and cheap implementation. NASA is pure bureaucratic bloat. They are not nimble any more. It was good to have the government funding the moon launches but privatizing space is the way to go. Weyland-Yutani anyone?

Seventy-two years later

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Chuck Yeager:

And now? We have to cage a ride from the Russians when we want to visit the International Space Station.

Yikes: bad code = bad science

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From Motherboard:

A Code Glitch May Have Caused Errors In More Than 100 Published Studies
Scientists in Hawaiʻi have uncovered a glitch in a piece of code that could have yielded incorrect results in over 100 published studies that cited the original paper.

The glitch caused results of a common chemistry computation to vary depending on the operating system used, causing discrepancies among Mac, Windows, and Linux systems. The researchers published the revelation and a debugged version of the script, which amounts to roughly 1,000 lines of code, on Tuesday in the journal Organic Letters.

“This simple glitch in the original script calls into question the conclusions of a significant number of papers on a wide range of topics in a way that cannot be easily resolved from published information because the operating system is rarely mentioned,” the new paper reads. “Authors who used these scripts should certainly double-check their results and any relevant conclusions using the modified scripts in the [supplementary information].”

Makes you wonder just how many other papers out there are citing buggy code. If it says what you want it to say, the tendency is not to give it another glance. Stunningly bad coding practice.

Modern designs*** of fission reactors can deliver cheap reliable electricity with zero carbon output. We need to build more of them. Fusion reactors are even more promising but for the last 50 years, they have always been 10-20 years in the future. This might have changed. From Popular Mechanics:

The Navy's Patent for a Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is Wild
Scientists have longed to create the perfect energy source. Ideally, that source would eventually replace greenhouse gas-spewing fossil fuels, power cars, boats, and planes, and send spacecraft to remote parts of the universe. So far, nuclear fusion energy has seemed like the most likely option to help us reach those goals.

The big problem? It’s difficult to harness, and we’re nowhere near producing it at the scales we need in order to cause a seismic shift in energy policy. That's why teams of researchers across the world are racing to improve our understanding of this reaction.

Now, the U.S. Navy has jumped into the game by filing a patent for a compact fusion reactor, according to exclusive reporting by  The War Zone.

Developing a viable source of nuclear fusion energy—the same reaction that powers the sun—has long been seemingly unattainable. The patent for the device was reportedly filed on March 22, 2019, and published late last month. This technology, by all accounts, is a long shot. But it would completely revolutionize how we power our world.

Fusion reactors have been around for a long time but they have never put out more energy than is required to operate them. If the Navy is able to run at over-unity, this is a gamechanger.

Interesting bit of information, the most practical fusion reactor is the Farnsworth Fusor invented by Philo Farnsworth. If that name is familiar, it is because Philo is also the inventor of the first practical design for television transmission and reception. The system we use today is the logical outgrowth of Philo's work.

Although the Fusor is useless for power generation, it is used a lot of hospital radioisotope generation.

*** All of the bad fission reactor designs: Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Windscale - these were all first sketched out onto cocktail napkins over 60 years ago. Modern designs have none of the failure modes.

The Amazon river basin - a catastrophe

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Not really - people do not realize how big this planet really is. Some numbers from Vox Day:

The clearing of the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is disappearing, or so we're told:

An area of Amazon rainforest roughly the size of a football pitch is now being cleared every single minute, according to satellite data. The rate of losses has accelerated as Brazil's new right-wing president favours development over conservation.

Okay, so let's walk through the math.

    • Amazon rainforest = 5,500,000 square kilometers
    • Football pitch (max) = 120 meters x 90 meters = 10,800 meters
    • Square kilometers of Amazon cleared every single minute = .0108
    • Minutes until Amazon is entirely cleared = 509,259,259 minutes
    • Number of minutes in a year = 525,600
    • Years remaining to Amazon rainforest = 968

So, clearly not a problem for anyone living today, unlike immigration. And, as it happens, this reported clearance rate is actually very good news for those of us who are both ecologically conscious and numerate, as it means the rate of rainforest clearance has declined by 98 percent since 2013.

The first global, high-resolution, satellite analysis of global deforestation revealed that since 2000 an area equal to 50 football pitches has been destroyed every minute. The total loss is 10 times the area of the UK, with only a third being replaced by natural and planted reforestation, and the destruction is accelerating in the tropics.

So, if  .18 square kilometers are being replaced by natural and planted reforestation every minute and .0108 is being cleared, the Amazon will last a lot longer than 968 more years. Indeed, it appears that it is actually growing.

Numbers and not narrative. Chicken Little is a respected scientist in our current society. Sad.

A cool find - archeology

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From Science Alert:

Nearly 100 Mysterious Amphorae Have Been Recovered From an Ancient Roman Shipwreck
Archaeologists have recovered a rare and tantalizing treasure off the coast of Mallorca in Spain. Not gold or jewels, but 93 jug-like terracotta vessels called amphorae from a Roman ship that sank 1,700 years ago.

Most of these beautiful jugs are still intact and sealed, which means there's a very good chance their contents were preserved, too.

The shipwreck was found just 50 metres (164 feet) from the shore, after local resident Felix Alarcón spotted pottery shards on the seafloor in July.

Because it was so close to the popular Playa de Palma beach resort and the tourist town of Can Pastilla, the Spanish government enlisted the Balearic Institute of Maritime Archaeology Studies (IBEAM) for an emergency excavation.

Their work revealed a relatively small seafaring vessel, just 10 metres (33 feet) long and 5 metres (16 feet) wide, with the amphorae carefully stowed in the hold. It was likely a merchant ship, transporting goods between the Iberian Peninsula and Rome; Mallorca is en route between the two.

Love it - hidden in plain sight.

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