Recently in Science Category

Chinese space station Tiangong-1

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The Chinese space station lost orbital stability and is crashing down to earth soon. Aerospace is tracking its decent.

The world is watching as Chinese space station Tiangong-1 hurtles toward Earth and makes a fiery reentry. Chances that space debris will hurt anybody are extremely slim, although when and where the space station’s remains will land is still unknown.

What goes up must come down, which is generally true if the “what” is a space station. However, exactly when and where it will land on Earth is anybody’s guess, especially if the space station is China’s Tiangong-1. Sent into orbit on September 30, 2011, Tiangong-1, or “Heavenly Palace 1,” is China’s first space lab, the prototype for China’s ambitious space program to launch a permanent, 20-ton space station in 2023. Tiangong-1 weighs 8.5 tons, measures 34 feet by 11 feet, and is the approximate size of a school bus.

Tiangong-1’s initial launch was unmanned, but it has a habitable experimental module to house astronauts. Its primary mission was to perform docking and orbital experiments. Over a five-year period, two successful manned missions by taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) took place, which included China’s first female astronauts, Liu Yang and Wang Yaping.

For Tiangong-1’s return to Earth, China’s original plan was to control its descent using thruster burn. However, on March 16, 2016, China reported to the United Nations that Tiangong-1 “ceased functioning” but didn’t state why. There has been considerable speculation as to the cause, but only the Chinese know for certain. Tiangong-1 is now on a decaying orbit as its altitude slowly decreases while its falling speed toward Earth rapidly increases. When it reaches Earth’s upper atmosphere, the space station will make its uncontrolled reentry.

Current forecast is for re-entry at April 2nd, 2018 00:18 UTC ± 2 hours.

Aerospace is a non-profit organization with a fascinating history - a little bit from their About page:

The Aerospace Corporation traces its roots to the beginning of the space age, when landing on the moon was a distant but exciting possibility, and mastery of space was seen as a huge strategic asset in the conflict with the Soviet Union. Space promised adventure and held great potential, but reaching space—in addition to developing and managing the nation’s space and missile activities—presented unique technical challenges to the Air Force and other government agencies involved in the fledgling aerospace industry.

After concerns were raised about the potential for conflicts of interest between contractors and the Air Force, Congress formed the Millikan Committee to study the Air Force’s approach to missile and space systems work. The committee recommended the formation of a noncompetitive organization committed to providing objective, unbiased technical assistance to the Air Force. On June 3, 1960, The Aerospace Corporation was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under California law.

An interesting website for space geeks...

News you can use - drug detection

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A bit of interesting news from England's University of Surrey

One in 10 people have traces of cocaine or heroin on their fingerprints
Scientists have found that drugs are now so prevalent that 13 per cent of those taking part in a test were found to have traces of class A drugs on their fingerprints - despite never using them.

But, it is possible to differentiate:

Researchers tested fingerprints from the unwashed hands of the drug-free volunteers and, despite having no history of drug use, still found traces of class A drugs. Around 13 per cent of fingerprints were found to contain cocaine and one per cent contained a metabolite of heroin. By setting a "cut-off" level, researchers were able to distinguish between fingerprints that had environmental contaminants from those produced after genuine drug use - even after people washed their hands.

The study is here: Noninvasive Detection of Cocaine and Heroin Use with Single Fingerprints: Determination of an Environmental Cutoff

Thought he was going to live forever

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Steven Hawking - from The Washington Post:

Stephen Hawking, physicist who came to symbolize the power of the human mind, dies at 76
Stephen W. Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who overcame a devastating neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and become a globally celebrated symbol of the power of the human mind, died March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

His family announced the death but did not provide any further details.

He is at peace and sailing the stars that he loved so much.

So true - Nature

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From Mostly Cajun:


A big Ka Boom

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Indonesia's Mount Sinabung just popped its cork.

Not as big as Mt. St. Helens here in 2008 but that is a lot of ash. Indonesia is right on the Ring of Fire and has about 130 active volcanoes.

Cool archaeology find in Mexico

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A city the size of Manhatten - from the UK Guardian:

Laser scanning reveals 'lost' ancient Mexican city 'had as many buildings as Manhattan'
Archaeology might evoke thoughts of intrepid explorers and painstaking digging, but in fact researchers say it is a high-tech laser mapping technique that is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate.

The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft.

The time and wavelength of the pulses reflected by the surface are combined with GPS and other data to produce a precise, three-dimensional map of the landscape. Crucially, the technique probes beneath foliage – useful for areas where vegetation is dense.

Earlier this month researchers revealed it had been used to discover an ancient Mayan city within the dense jungles of Guatemala, while it has also helped archaeologists to map the city of Caracol – another Mayan metropolis.

A bit more - talking about the scope of the city:

“That is a huge area with a lot of people and a lot of architectural foundations that are represented,” said Fisher. “If you do the maths, all of a sudden you are talking about 40,000 building foundations up there, which is [about] the same number of building foundations that are on the island of Manhattan.”

The team also found that Angamuco has an unusual layout. Monuments such as pyramids and open plazas are largely concentrated in eight zones around the city’s edges, rather being located in one large city centre. According to Fisher, more than 100,000 people are thought to have lived in Angamuco in its heyday between about 1000AD to 1350AD. “[Its size] would make it the biggest city that we know of right now in western Mexico during this period,” said Fisher.

There is so much that we simply do not know about our history. Amazing find!

And some good news for once

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Most scientists are dystopians and Malthusian in their outlook. Scary "predictions" get attention from the unscientific crowd and get more grant money. Nice bit of news from The Washington Post:

A Harvard professor explains why the world is actually becoming a much better place
In his bestseller “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker described the decline of violence in the world. In his new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress,” Pinker builds a persuasive case that life is getting better across a host of measures. Emma Seppala, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education interviews Pinker below.

Looking at the news, we often think things are getting worse and worse. However, in your book, you make the powerful and deeply researched argument that things are actually getting better. Can you please explain this conundrum?

Pinker: Think about it: If you arrived in a new city and saw that it was raining, would you conclude, “The rain has gotten worse”? How could you tell, unless you knew how much it had rained before that day? Yet people read about a war or terrorist attack this morning and conclude that violence is increasing, which is just as illogical. In fact, rates of war have been roller-coastering downward since 1946, rates of American homicide have plunged since 1992, and rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy and dictatorship, when they are measured by a constant yardstick, have all decreased — not to zero, but by a lot.

But even if civilization is improving from a birds-eye view over the long-term, things can get still worse for many years in the short-term, right?

Pinker: Progress is not the same as magic. There are always blips and setbacks, and sometimes horrific lurches, like the Spanish flu pandemic, World War II and the post-1960s crime boom. Progress takes place when the setbacks are fewer, less severe or stop altogether. Clearly we have to be mindful of the worst possible setback, namely nuclear war, and of the risk of permanent reversals, such as the worst-case climate change scenarios. … Of course life is bad for those people with the worst possible lives, and that will be true until the rates of war, crime, disease and poverty are exactly zero. The point is that there are far fewer people living in nightmares of war and disease.

A thoughtful interview - lots more at the site. Going to have to put in a request for his books at my local library...

Very cool news - also space related

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From The Washington Post:

The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a commercially run venture, NASA document shows
The Trump administration wants to turn the International Space Station into a kind of orbiting real estate venture run not by the government, but by private industry.

The White House plans to stop funding the station after 2024, ending direct federal support of the orbiting laboratory. But it does not intend to abandon the orbiting laboratory altogether and is working on a transition plan that could turn the station over to the private sector, according to an internal NASA document obtained by The Washington Post.

“The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,” the document states. “NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit.”

Considering the great track record that companies like SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Blue Origin. Bigelow Aerospace, and Virgin Galactic are having (just to name a few), this is a great idea. Also, something that the Never Trumpers will fail to tell you is that 2024 is the scheduled end-of-life for the International Space Station - it was never intended to be in orbit for any longer than that. Turning it over to private enterprise is perfect.

A few headlines to make my point:

I rest my case.

Prayers go out to the people of Taiwan

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Not that big of an earthquake - only a 6.4. The quake we are expecting from the Cascadia Subduction Zone is expected to be around a 9 - this is the historical strength. The magnitude scale is logarithmic so a 7 is 10 times larger than a 6 and an 8 is 100 times larger than a 6.
From Associated Press:

Deadly earthquake strikes Taiwan’s east coast
A magnitude-6.4 earthquake struck Tuesday near the coast of Taiwan, killing two hotel employees and injuring more than 200 other people, officials said.

The Central News Agency reported that the ground floor of the Marshal Hotel in Hualien county had caved in, causing the deaths of the two employees.

Other buildings were shifted on foundations and rescuers used ladders, ropes and cranes to get residents to safety.

Taiwan is a modern nation - it will be interesting to see how the buildings were built. Also, the National Weather service issued a tsunami warning for the East Coast. Oops...

More faster please - Nuclear power

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From Next Big Future:

NuScale factory built modular 50 megawatt nuclear reactors have funding, customers and some NRC approval
Nuscale Power has more than $700 million in government and private investment and they have a customer. A consortium of municipal utilities in six Western states hopes to out 12 of the fifty-megawatt reactors together in Idaho to create a 600-megawatt power plant for the bargain price — compared with other nuclear facilities — of $2.85 billion.

In January, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that the design of the NuScale reactor — which relies on air circulation for cooling — is so safe that it does not need the expensive emergency pumps and backup electrical systems required of big conventional reactors. The decision brings NuScale closer than any company in decades to gaining a license to operate an entirely new reactor design in the U.S. for commercial use.

It is still a conventional light water but with much better engineering. I wish that LFTR would be promoted more but its time will come.

Heh - the liberals are eating their own

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Absolute sign of the end times for them. I present this headline from the once great Scientific American:

Bill Nye Does Not Speak for Us and He Does Not Speak for Science

Yikes - major volcano set to erupt

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From The Washington Post:

The most active volcano in the Philippines could be on the verge of a major eruption
Thousands of Filipino families have been evacuated in the Philippine province of Albay as the country’s most active volcano inches toward a possibly major eruption.

A thick gray cloud of ash billowed high above the summit of Mount Mayon on Monday, when officials raised the alert level to four, an indication that a hazardous eruption is imminent. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said the volcano has been “exhibiting increased seismic unrest, lava fountaining and summit explosions.” The agency also has extended what it calls the “danger zone” to an eight-kilometer radius (nearly five miles) from the volcano’s vent.

Footage captured by the agency showed bright orange lava fountains shooting out of the volcano’s summit Sunday night.

They are worried about pyroclastic eruption and a potential lahar.

Underwater volcano

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Interesting story from Science Alert:

We All Nearly Missed The Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded
She was flying home from a holiday in Samoa when she saw it through the airplane window: a "peculiar large mass" floating on the ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the north coast of New Zealand.

The Kiwi passenger emailed photos of the strange ocean slick to scientists, who realised what it was – a raft of floating rock spewed from an underwater volcano, produced in the largest eruption of its kind ever recorded.

"We knew it was a large-scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century," says volcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania, who's co-led the first close-up investigation of the historic 2012 eruption.

The incident, produced by a submarine volcano called the Havre Seamount, initially went unnoticed by scientists, but the floating rock platform it generated was harder to miss.

More at the site - the eruption was about 1.5 times the size of Mt. St. Helens. Underwater volcanism accounts for 70% of all volcanic activity but we do not see most of the eruptions.

Supernova from 4,600BC

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An interesting idea - from The Guardian:

Two suns? No, it's a supernova drawn 6,000 years ago, say scientists
For decades, stone carvings unearthed in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir were thought to depict a hunting scene. But the presence of two celestial objects in the drawings has piqued the interest of a group of Indian astronomers.

They have proposed another theory. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of History of Science, the Kashmir rock drawings may be the oldest depiction of a supernova, the final explosion of a dying star, ever discovered.

Archaeologists found the carvings nearly half a century ago in Kashmir’s Burzahama site, where the oldest settlements have been dated to about 4,300BC. It showed two hunters, a bull, and two beaming disks in the sky initially speculated to be two suns.

Previously, the oldest supernova recorded was by Chinese astonomers in 800BC - this new discovery moves the goalposts quite a distance.

From Reuters:

Strong quake in Caribbean Sea shakes Honduras, Mexico and Belize, sparks tsunami warning
An earthquake of magnitude 7.6 that struck near remote islands belonging to Honduras on Tuesday was felt across northern Central America, prompting a tsunami warning for parts of the Caribbean.

The quake rattled windows in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa roughly 323 miles (519 km) to the east and was felt at least as far north as the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, but no damage was immediately reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami advisory was in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the earthquake and warned of possible waves up to 1 meter (3 feet) above tide level.

It was a shallow one which heightened its effects but it was far from any real population centers so the damage should be minimized.

Protein folding

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Nice article on some very interesting work being done with proteins - from the New York Times:

Scientists Are Designing Artisanal Proteins for Your Body
Our bodies make roughly 20,000 different kinds of proteins, from the collagen in our skin to the hemoglobin in our blood. Some take the shape of molecular sheets. Others are sculpted into fibers, boxes, tunnels, even scissors.

A protein’s particular shape enables it to do a particular job, whether ferrying oxygen through the body or helping to digest food.

Scientists have studied proteins for nearly two centuries, and over that time they’ve worked out how cells create them from simple building blocks. They have long dreamed of assembling those elements into new proteins not found in nature.

But they’ve been stumped by one great mystery: how the building blocks in a protein take their final shape. David Baker, 55, the director of the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington, has been investigating that enigma for a quarter-century.

They are using the Rosetta program to help with the research - I have been running it on one of my systems at home since last August. Trish's son is going for his PhD at this lab.

About that global warming

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A two-fer. First - the polar bear population has always been used as an index of ice cover by the warmists. Cute bears stranded on ice floes, etc... except that that photo was pure photoshop. The bear population is doing fine - from Arctic Now:

Greenland raises quota for northwest polar bear hunt
Hunters in northwestern Greenland will be allowed to shoot more polar bears in 2018 after a population estimate published earlier this year found there were more bears than expected living in the waters between Greenland and Baffin Island.

The increase, to 92, or 16 more than this year, is the second since Greenlandic lawmakers enacted a polar bear quota in 2006 amid concern about the effects of declining sea ice. The previous increase came in 2010, when the number for all of Greenland rose to 140, where it has remained since.

Yes, the population is doing just fine - numbers are increasing.

And then we have this to look forward to - from the London Daily Mail:

Plummeting temperatures could send the world into a 'mini ice age' in 2030 and could OVERRIDE global warming, claim mathematicians
In a little over a decade the world could be plunged into a 'mini ice age', scientists have warned.

Temperatures will start dropping in 2021, according to a mathematical model of the Sun's magnetic energy.

This, they say, will lead to a phenomenon known as the 'Maunder minimum' - which has previously been known as a mini ice age when it hit between 1646 and 1715, even causing London's River Thames to freeze over.

Our sun has been very very quiet recently with almost no sunspots. Sunspots are a very good proxy for solar output as they are visible from earth with very simple equipment (pinhole camera) During the previous cold periods, solar observation recorded very low sunspot numbers.

From Rutgers University:

Mass of Warm Rock Rising Beneath New England, Rutgers Study Suggests
Slowly but steadily, an enormous mass of warm rock is rising beneath part of New England, although a major volcanic eruption isn’t likely for millions of years, a Rutgers University-led study suggests. The research is groundbreaking in its scope and challenges textbook concepts of geology.

“The upwelling we detected is like a hot air balloon, and we infer that something is rising up through the deeper part of our planet under New England,” said lead author Vadim Levin, a geophysicist and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “It is not Yellowstone (National Park)-like, but it’s a distant relative in the sense that something relatively small – no more than a couple hundred miles across – is happening.”

The study, which tapped seismic data through the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope program, was published online this week in Geology. Study co-authors include Yiran Li and Peter Skryzalin, who did their research through Rutgers’ Aresty Research Assistant Program, and researchers at Yale University.

“Our study challenges the established notion of how the continents on which we live behave,” Levin said. “It challenges the textbook concepts taught in introductory geology classes.”

Interesting. The Earthscope site is fascinating - lots of maps and data.

Cool discovery to our North

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From the Canadian Broadcasting Company:

'This is a major discovery': Explorers find massive ice-age cavern beneath Montreal
Explorers have just discovered a new underground passage, complete with stalactites and a lake, all buried beneath the city of Montreal — and they don't know where it ends yet.

Until a couple of months ago, no one had ever set foot inside.

CBC crews were among the first people who had the chance to explore the cathedral-like chamber, which was formed more than 15,000 years ago during the ice age.

Makes you wonder what else is there. The majority of the mountains around here are limestone - lots of rumors of caves but nothing tangible.

Life in Puget Sound

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Just when we thought all we had to worry about was the Cascadia Subduction Zone (here, here and here) - from the Seismological Society of America

Large Quakes Along Olympic Mountain Faults
A comprehensive study of faults along the north side of the Olympic Mountains of Washington State emphasizes the substantial seismic hazard to the northern Puget Lowland region. The study examined the Lake Creek-Boundary Creek and Sadie Creek faults along the north flank of the Olympic Mountains, and concludes that there were three to five large, surface-rupturing earthquakes along the faults within the last 13,000 years.

The study published September 26 in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America estimates that the two most recent earthquakes on the faults, one occurring around 2900 years ago and one occurring 1300 years ago, were likely of magnitude 7 and magnitude 6 to 7, respectively. Based on an analysis of fault scarps mapped with airborne lidar imagery (a remote sensing method used to examine the Earth’s surface) and the dating of earthquake stratigraphy in trenches, fault slip rates are about one to two millimeters per year, and as much as 56 kilometer lengths of the faults may have ruptured during earthquakes.

While the presence of large earthquakes in the region is not surprising, given the ongoing tectonic deformation in the region, said Alan Nelson and Steve Personius of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Lake Creek-Boundary Creek fault, and other young, active faults like it, pose a significant earthquake hazard for the northern Puget Lowland region. The Puget Lowland includes Seattle and extends through western Washington from Bellingham in the north to Olympia and Tacoma in the south.

The threat of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific Northwest at the Cascadia subduction zone offshore, where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is pushed underneath the North American plate, often steals the seismic hazard spotlight in the region. But much shallower, upper-plate earthquakes also can produce strong ground shaking and damage. At least nine active upper-plate faults, like the Lake Creek-Boundary Creek fault, have been documented in the Puget Lowland, said Nelson.

“If you consider the hazard from these upper-plate faults, whose earthquake epicenters are only 10 or 15 kilometers deep, future upper-plate earthquakes will be much closer to large population centers in the Puget Lowland region,” Nelson said, “than will larger earthquakes on the plate boundary of the Cascadia subduction zone.”

Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. Still, looking at the long-term, no place is safe so worrying is useless. Preparing is not.

Waiting for the big one - earthquake

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Staring down the barrel - part two. From the The University of Texas at Austin, Jackson School of Geosciences:

Seafloor Sediments Appear to Enhance Earthquake and Tsunami Danger in Pacific Northwest
The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest has all the ingredients for making powerful earthquakes—and according to the geological record, the region is due for its next “big one.”

A new study led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that the occurrence of these big, destructive quakes and associated devastating tsunamis may be linked to compact sediments along large portions of the subduction zone. In particular, they found that big, destructive quakes may have a better chance of occurring offshore of Washington and northern Oregon than farther south along the subduction zone—although any large quake would impact the surrounding area.

“We observed very compact sediments offshore of Washington and northern Oregon that could support earthquake rupture over a long distance and close to the trench, which increases both earthquake and tsunami hazards,” said lead author Shuoshuo Han, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG). UTIG is a research unit of the Jackson School of Geosciences.

Just wonderful - until now, the thought was that the most damage would be off the Oregon and California coast. This region produces a large earthquake every 300-500 years. The last one was in 1700 - 317 years ago.

La Palma island is one of the Canary Islands located off the coastline of Morocco. These islands are volcanic in origin and La Palma shows signs of heating up. From Scotland's Express:

La Palma volcano UPDATE: Dissolved gas measured in waters off Canaries after quake swarm
Spanish ship Ángeles Alvariño was on site between October 22 and 23 to study the waters between 100 and 400 meters deep on the West, South and East coasts of the island of La Palma.

At the request of the Volcanic Emergency Plan of the Canary Islands (PEVOLCA), experts analysed the current state of the water from the physical-chemical point of view, as coordinated by the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (INVOLCAN).

This one is of great interest as a side of the volcano could slough off into the Atlantic Ocean and cause a very large tsunami directed at our East Coast. It seems to be more and more active in the last year or so.

Very cool announcement - science

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We were told that a major announcement was coming today and they did not dissapoint - from National Geographic:

In a First, Gravitational Waves Linked to Neutron Star Crash
Around 130 million years ago, two dead stars violently collided and set off a sequence of events that, over the last two months, have whipped astronomers on Earth into an absolute frenzy.

At press conferences held across continents, scientists today announced the first detection of gravitational waves created by two neutron stars smashing into each other.

First theorized by Albert Einstein in 1916, gravitational waves are kinks or distortions in the fabric of spacetime caused by extremely violent cosmic events. Until now, all confirmed detections involved a deadly dance between two black holes, which leave no visible signature on the sky.

But with this latest event, teams using about a hundred instruments at roughly 70 observatories were able to track down and watch the cataclysm in multiple wavelengths of light, allowing astronomers to scrutinize the source of these cosmic ripples for the first time.

“We saw a totally new phenomenon that has never before been seen by humans,” says Andy Howell of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s an amazing thing that may not be duplicated in our lifetimes.”

Incredibly cool - they were able to see the source of the waves in physical light. So 299,792,458 meters per second is not just a good idea, it's the law! No wonder that three of the primary researchers got the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.

Happy Birthday - the Atomic Second

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From IDW / Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt:

The "atomic second" turns 50
The "atomic second" was the beginning of a revolutionary era: it was born as early as 1955, when the first cesium atomic clock was put into operation. In the fall of 1967, it was included in the International System of Units. This was the beginning of a development which will, in all likelihood, come to an end in the fall of 2018 when the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) decides that the entire International System of Units (SI) is to be based on invariable properties of nature – on fundamental constants. In this development the second came next to the meter, but in the race for accuracy it has an outstanding role: no other unit can be realized with such accuracy. Today's cesium atomic clocks – such as the four primary clocks of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), which are responsible for realizing and disseminating legal time in Germany –provide the time unit with the unimaginable accuracy up to 16 decimal places!

"You are giving us a beautiful topic to meditate about: measuring the trajectory of the stars in the infinite depth of space based on the oscillation of an infinitesimally small atom." This is how poetically the then French foreign minister, Couve de Murville, expressed what was about to happen in Paris. In 1967, the scientists and politicians gathered in Paris for the 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) decided to re-define the second. The decision fell on 13 October 1967: "The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium ¹³³ atom."

Now, you can purchase used Cesium clocks on eBay for a few hundred bucks.

Talk about an earth shattering Kaboom!

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From Washington State University:

Gases from ancient Inland Northwest volcanic eruptions blocked out sun, cooling planet
The Pacific Northwest was home to one of the Earth’s largest known volcanic eruptions, a millennia-long spewing of sulfuric gas that blocked out the sun and cooled the planet, Washington State University researchers have determined.

Only two other eruptions — the basalt floods of the Siberian Traps and the Deccan Traps — were larger, and they led to two of the Earth’s great extinctions.

“This would have been devastating regionally because of the acid-rain effect from the eruptions,” said John Wolff, a professor in the WSU School of the Environment. “It did have a global effect on temperatures, but not drastic enough to start killing things, or it did not kill enough of them to affect the fossil record.”

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in Geology, the top journal in the field. Starting 16.5 million years ago, they say, vents in southeast Washington and northeast Oregon put out a series of flows that reached nearly to Canada and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The flows created the Wapshilla Ridge Member of the Grande Ronde Basalt, a kilometer-thick block familiar to travelers in the Columbia Gorge and most of Eastern Washington. The researchers say it is “the largest mapped flood basalt unit on Earth.”

Quite the Kaboom - origin of the reference here and here

What is time

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Say hello to our new little friends

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When you discover a new species, you get to name it. A politically correct professor and his grad students did just this - from EurekAlert:

Discovery: Bernie Sanders spider
A scientist at the University of Vermont and four of his undergraduate students have discovered 15 new species of "smiley-faced" spiders--and named them after, among others, David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

You won't find them in Washington, DC, Hollywood, or Vermont--but on Caribbean islands and other southern spots you might now get a glimpse of Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae, and S. berniesandersi as well as S. davidbowiei and S. leonardodicaprioi.

"This was an undergraduate research project," says Ingi Agnarsson, a spider expert and professor of biology at UVM who led the new study. "In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change--leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world."

Their research took them to the Caribbean Islands - talk about roughing it. Wonder if it was publicly funded?

Say hello to our little friend - Mt. Agung. From the New Zealand website Stuff:

240,000 flee 'imminent' Bali volcano eruption
About 240,000 people are fleeing Bali's Mount Agung precinct in eastern Indonesia, with the volcano threatening to erupt at any moment.

The warning was raised to the maximum level four on Friday night, which means a hazardous eruption is imminent for the first time in 54 years. This could happen within 24 hours.

Locals reported monkeys and snakes fleeing the mountain. 

It last erupted in 1963 killing over 1,100 people - prediction has gotten a lot better since then. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program has up-to-date warnings.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

With 8 threatening volcanoes, USGS says California deserves close monitoring
With the world's top volcanologists heading to Portland, Ore., on Aug. 14 for the first international volcanology assembly held in the U.S. since 1989, the many famous, prominent and dangerous volcanoes of the West Coast will be the subject of field trips and much discussion.

Throughout the Cascade Range to southern California, the West Coast is home to most of the country's highest-threat volcanoes, as ranked by the United State Geological Survey. And California has its share.

While Mount Shasta unsurprisingly tops USGS's list of very-high threat volcanoes in California, there are seven other volcanic areas in the state that are also young, nervy, jacked up on magma and "likely to erupt."

Scientists know from geophysical and geochemical research that these volcanoes have molten rock, magma, "in their roots," said Margaret Mangan, Scientist-in-Charge at the California Volcano Observatory. "I call them the watch-list volcanoes."

Not only do we live in interesting times, we live in an interesting location. I wll be looking for YouTubes of some of the presentations - this would be a fascinating conference to attend.

An interesting drill - Black Sky

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Hat tip to reader Deb - from Peak Oil:

“Black Sky Event”: Feds Preparing For Widespread Power Outages Across U.S.
An exercise sponsored by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Energy set to take place on August 23 called EarthEX2017 will wargame responses to catastrophes such as mega earthquakes, cyber terrorism or high altitude electromagnetic pulse attacks.

The exercise will simulate a “subcontinent-scale, long duration power outage, with cascading failures of all other infrastructures,” according to the official Earth Ex website.

“Black sky events” are defined as, “Catastrophic occurrences caused by man or nature that bring society to its knees.”

“Cars would have no fuel. Restaurants and grocery stores would be bare. Electricity could be out for months in such an event,” writes Mike Vasilinda.

Given the soaring tensions between the United States and North Korea, which has threatened to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, the timing of the EarthEX2017 exercise couldn’t be more appropriate.

Sobering possibility - North Korea has two satellites in polar orbits. I doubt they have nukes on board (their devices are still too heavy to lift) but if they did, they could take out much of the North American power grid with one detonation. Polar orbits are also termed "Ball of String" orbits as they do not go over the same piece of land every time - they precess and given time, can cover every part of this planet. Want to shut someone down, just wait a few days until you are directly overhead and then give the signal.

An interesting world that we live in but glad the emergency services people are drilling for such an event.

Pot use - something to watch out for

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No corroboration but it should be easy enough to duplicate - from Reuters:

Marijuana use holds three-fold blood pressure death risk: study
People who smoke marijuana have a three times greater risk of dying from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug, scientists said on Wednesday.

The risk grows with every year of use, they said.

The findings, from a study of some 1,200 people, could have implications in the United States among other countries. Several states have legalized marijuana and others are moving toward it. It is decriminalized in a number of other countries.

"Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health," said Barbara Yankey, who co-led the research at the school of public health at Georgia State University in the United States.

I have not had time to read the whole thing but it is here: Effect of marijuana use on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality: A study using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey linked mortality file

No word if this is out of the Reefer Madness playbook or will show up at Retraction Watch in a week or so.

Yikes - earthquake in China

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Details are still trickling in - from the American Geophysical Union's Landslide Blog:

Jiuzhaigou County: a shallow magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Sichuan Province on 8th August 2017
At 13:49 UT  (21:49 local time) on 8th August 2017 an earthquake struck Jiuzhaigou County in Sichuan Province in China. At the time of writing the magnitude of this event is unclear – the Chinese media are reporting M=7.0, whilst the USGS currently has M=6.5 – but either way this is a significant event.  In both cases the depth is considered to be very shallow – c. 10-20 km – which means that there is a high potential for landslides. Currently, the level of loss is not clear, and is unlikely to be so until the sun comes up in a few hours, but estimates range from 40 to 190 fatalities, with a median  value of 102, according to James Daniell of EDIM – CAT news.

Of course this area is no stranger to significant earthquakes. The earthquake in Jiuzhaigou County has occurred to the west of the ruptures that generated the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.  It is a characteristic of earthquakes in this area that they generate large numbers of landslides.  The landscape in this region of China is steep and high, and the slopes have been preconditioned for failure by frequent earthquakes and intense rainfall events. Early indications are that this was predominantly a strike-slip earthquake – experience suggests that these events tend to generate intense landsliding close to he fault rupture, with rapid attenuation of landslide density away from the fault. It will be interesting to see if this event matches this pattern.

Strike-slip is what we have to look forward to with the Cascadian Subduction Zone - nasty stuff.

A fun experiment - hydrogen

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A very cool experiment from Swansea University in south-west Wales, UK:

First observation of the hyperfine splitting in Antihydrogen
Swansea University scientists working at CERN have again made a landmark finding, taking them one step closer to answering the question of why matter exists and illuminating the mysteries of the Big Bang and the birth of the Universe.

In their paper published in Nature the physicists from the University’s College of Science, working with an international collaborative team at CERN, describe the first observation of spectral line shapes in antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen.

Professor Mike Charlton said: “The existence of antimatter is well established in physics, and it is buried deep in the heart of some of the most successful theories ever developed. But we have yet to answer a central question of why didn’t matter and antimatter, which it is believed were created in equal amounts when the Big Bang started the Universe, mutually self-annihilate?

“We also have yet to address why there is any matter left in the Universe at all. This conundrum is one of the central open questions in fundamental science, and one way to search for the answer is to bring the power of precision atomic physics to bear upon antimatter.”

Very clever idea - we know the properties of hydrogen very well - the hyperfine splitting has been determined to within one part in ten trillion and this transition is at the core of our most precise clocks - the Hydrogen Masers. To measure the same transition in anti-Hydrogen will open a door on its physical properties. It should be identical but who knows...

Red sprites and blue jets

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These are electrical discharges seen above large thunderstorms. They were first theorized in the 1920's and were observed by aircraft pilots but these reports were discounted until 1989. Now that we know what to look for, we are seeing them everywhere. This gorgeous creature was filmed by the Gemini Cloudcam on July  24, 2017. From the report at Spaceweather:

Gigantic Jet Lightning Near Hawaii
Taken by Frankie Lucena on July 24, 2017 @ Mauna Kea Observatory
These images were captured by the Gemini Cloudcam at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii on the night of July 24, 2017. This amazing lightning phenomena is known as Gigantic Jet Lightning. They are more powerful than sprites and are easier to see with the naked eye.

I downloaded these images from the Gemini cloudcam website and enhanced them by processing them in Adobe Premiere first and then in photoshop.

There were also ripples in the sky above the storm that is known as gravity waves. They are more noticeable in the right hand side of the video. These gravity waves could have been caused by the strong convection present in the thunderstorm. These gravity waves are very near the Ionosphere at about 85-90 Km. They can be seen in this video that I downloaded from the Gemini Cloudcam website and enhanced it to better show the color of the Gigantic Jets.

A special thanks to Steve Cullen for finding the gigantic jet at the beginning of the time-lapse.

Here is a snap from one of the frames:


Genetics and Petunias

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I like Petunias and usually have them in a basket outside my store along with some other flowers - makes the place look inviting. Did not know about this - from Science Magazine:

How the transgenic petunia carnage of 2017 began
Two years ago, plant biologist Teemu Teeri was walking by a train station in Helsinki when he noticed some vivid orange petunias in a planter. The flowers reminded Teeri, who has studied plant pigments at the University of Helsinki, of blooms created in a landmark gene-engineering experiment some 30 years earlier. As far as he knew, those flowers never made it to market. But he was curious, and he stuck a stem in his backpack.

Now, that chance encounter has ended up forcing flower sellers on two continents to destroy vast numbers of petunias. Teeri ultimately confirmed that the plants contained foreign DNA, and he tipped off regulators in Europe and the United States, who have identified other commercial strains that are genetically engineered (GE). Although officials say the GE petunias pose no threat to human health or the environment—and likely were unknowingly sold for years—they’ve asked sellers to destroy the flowers, because it’s illegal to sell them in the United States and Europe without a permit.

Ironically, proposed revisions to U.S. biotechnology rules now under discussion might have exempted the harmless petunias from regulation. But the petunia carnage highlights the growing complexity of regulating GE plants, which have a long history of showing up where they aren’t allowed and can be hard to track.

Much more at the site. Harmless to humans and more a problem of overarching regulations. Common sense should have prevailed but not in this bureaucratic world... Here is the page from the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Another science paper sting

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This is delightful and I should mention that these are not the frontline publishing houses, this guy sent his paper in to second tier journals. From Discover Magazine:

Predatory Journals Hit By ‘Star Wars’ Sting
A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. I know because I wrote it.

Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin.

Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.

So what did they publish? A travesty, which they should have rejected within about 5 minutes – or 2 minutes if the reviewer was familiar with Star Wars. Some highlights:

    • “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”
    • “Involved in ATP production is the citric acid cycle, also referred to as the Kyloren cycle after its discoverer”
    • “Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside in all living cells – without the midi-chlorians, life couldn’t exist, and we’d have no knowledge of the force. Midichlorial disorders often erupt as brain diseases, such as autism.”
    • “midichloria DNA (mtDNRey)” and “ReyTP”

Heh - I bet some faces are red - this damages the credibility of these journals. The papers are supposed to be reviewed before they are accepted for publication, not just slapped up on their websites.

This is big - from Stanford University:

An experiment proposed by Stanford theorists finds evidence for the Majorana fermion, a particle that’s its own antiparticle
In 1928, physicist Paul Dirac made the stunning prediction that every fundamental particle in the universe has an antiparticle – its identical twin but with opposite charge. When particle and antiparticle met they would be annihilated, releasing a poof of energy. Sure enough, a few years later the first antimatter particle – the electron’s opposite, the positron – was discovered, and antimatter quickly became part of popular culture.

But in 1937, another brilliant physicist, Ettore Majorana, introduced a new twist: He predicted that in the class of particles known as fermions, which includes the proton, neutron, electron, neutrino and quark, there should be particles that are their own antiparticles.

Now a team including Stanford scientists says it has found the first firm evidence of such a Majorana fermion. It was discovered in a series of lab experiments on exotic materials at the University of California in collaboration with Stanford University. The team was led by UC-Irvine Associate Professor Jing Xia and UCLA Professor Kang Wang, and followed a plan proposed by Shoucheng Zhang, professor of physics at Stanford, and colleagues. The team reported the results July 20 in Science.

“Our team predicted exactly where to find the Majorana fermion and what to look for as its ‘smoking gun’ experimental signature,” said Zhang, a theoretical physicist and one of the senior authors of the research paper. “This discovery concludes one of the most intensive searches in fundamental physics, which spanned exactly 80 years.”

A lot more at the site including a description of the experiment. Very clever idea and implementation. The abstract and paper are here (paper is behind a paywall): Signatures of Majorana Fermions in Hybrid Superconductor-Semiconductor Nanowire Devices

An interesting spin-off

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The loss of  Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people is one of the greater aviation mysteries but there is one good thing to come from it - from gCaptain:

MH370 Search Data Unveils Fishing Hotspots, Ancient Geological Movements
Detailed sea-floor maps made during the unsuccessful search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, released by Australia on Wednesday, could help increase the knowledge of rich fisheries and the prehistoric movement of the earth’s southern continents.

The Indian Ocean search ended in January after covering a lonely stretch of open water where under-sea mountains larger than Mount Everest rise and a rift valley dotted with subsea volcanoes runs hundreds of kilometers long.

The data that was collected:

...information gathered during painstaking surveys of some 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq miles) of the remote waters west of Australia should provide fishermen, oceanographers and geologists insight into the region in unprecedented detail, said Charitha Pattiaratchi, professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

“There are the locations of seamounts which will attract a lot of international deep sea fishermen to the area,” Pattiaratchi told Reuters by phone.

High-priced fish such as tuna, toothfish, orange roughy, alfonsino and trevally are known to gather near the seamounts, where plankton swirl in the currents in the inhospitable waters.

Pattiaratchi said the location of seamounts would also help model the impact of tsunamis in the region, given undersea mountains help dissipate their destructive energy, and potentially change our understanding of the break-up of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana.

46,000 sq. miles is about the area of the state of Pennsylvania - a big area to be gathering such crystal clear data. Quite the addition to the world's body of knowledge.

“It is estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of the world’s oceans have been surveyed with the kind of technology used in the search for MH370, making this remote part of the Indian Ocean among the most thoroughly mapped regions of the deep ocean on the planet,” said Stuart Minchin, chief of Geoscience Australia’s environmental geoscience division.

Here is the website for the project at Geoscience Australia: MH370 - Phase One Data Release

Just wonderful - northern lights

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A bust - we need to get a six or above to get displays at this latitude.20170716-K-index-01.gif

Look to the North this evening

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Our sun had a flare a few days ago and the CME is hitting Earth right now - the K-Index is high enough that we should be getting aurora borealis tonight.


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