Recently in Science Category

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

20191217-nuke.jpg

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:

20191217-nuke.jpg

The story? From Nuclear Power.net

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.

20191216-sun.jpg

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:

20191026-eagle.jpg

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:

DEEP SOLAR MINIMUM:
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:

Mission
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.

Interesting development - Hydrogen

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From Popular Mechanics:

Ditching Platinum for the Ocean Could Make Hydrogen Cheap
Hydrogen packs a powerful punch—that's why it's so often used in rocket fuel. It's also the most abundant element in the universe. One of the things that holds back its widespread adoption as an energy source, however, is that on Earth, hydrogen typically combines with other elements. Getting hydrogen often means either extracting or producing it, both of which can be expensive.

But now, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have found a pairing of minerals that surpasses other precious metal materials when it comes to producing hydrogen.

This is just in the laboratory for now with no word if it can scale to industrial volumes but an interesting development.

Whoops - Nature retracts a paper

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Nature is one of the top scientific journals out there. Their papers are gold standard. Some schadenfreude from Phys.org:

Journal 'Nature' retracts ocean-warming study
The journal Nature retracted a study published last year that found oceans were warming at an alarming rate due to climate change.

The prestigious scientific journal issued the formal notice this week for the paper published Oct. 31, 2018, by researchers at the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

They released a statement published on the journal's website that read in part:

"Shortly after publication, arising from comments from Nicholas Lewis, we realized that our reported uncertainties were underestimated owing to our treatment of certain systematic errors as random errors.

"Despite the revised uncertainties, our method remains valid and provides an estimate of ocean warming that is independent of the ocean data underpinning other approaches."

Activists pushing the narrative and using the output from bogus computer models as backup. These mokes must have never heard of Project Argo - 3,800+ floats deployed throughout the ocean for the last 20 years. They provide a continuous measurement of ocean temperatures. What warming...

Scripps Institution of Oceanography should be ashamed of themselves for falling for this political bullshit.

About that plastic in the oceans

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Chinese cargo ships - from Agence France-Presse:

Ocean plastic waste probably comes from ships, report says
Most of the plastic bottles washing up on the rocky shores of Inaccessible Island, aptly named for its sheer cliffs rising from the middle of the South Atlantic, probably come from Chinese merchant ships, a study published Monday said.

The study offers fresh evidence that the vast garbage patches floating in the middle of oceans, which have sparked much consumer hand-wringing in recent years, are less the product of people dumping single-use plastics in waterways or on land, than they are the result of merchant marine vessels tossing their waste overboard by the ton.

The authors of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, collected thousands of pieces of waste during visits to the tiny island in 1984, 2009 and again in 2018.

The island is located roughly midway between Argentina and South Africa in the South Atlantic gyre, a vast whirlpool of currents that has created what has come to be known as an oceanic garbage patch.

While initial inspections of the trash washing up on the island showed labels indicating it had come from South America, some 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) to the west, by 2018 three-quarters of the garbage appeared to originate from Asia, mostly China.

Many of the plastic bottles had been crushed with their tops screwed on tight, as is customary on board ships to save space, said report author Peter Ryan, director of the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Around 90 percent of the bottles found had been produced in the previous two years, ruling out the possibility that they had been carried by ocean currents over the vast distance from Asia, which would normally take three to five years.

Since the number of Asian fishing vessels has remained stable since the 1990s, while the number of Asian -- and in particular, Chinese -- cargo vessels has vastly increased in the Atlantic, the researchers concluded that the bottles must come from merchant vessels, which toss them overboard rather than dumping them as trash at ports.

"It's inescapable that it's from ships, and it's not coming from land," Ryan told AFP.

Nice that someone is finally doing the basic research on the problem instead of just deploying theory after theory (it's the straws being handed out in restaurants).

A big hunk of glass

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From Digital Photography Review:

The world's largest optical lens has been delivered for a $168M, 3.2-gigapixel telescope camera
The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, the lab overseeing the design and fabrication of a 3.2-gigapixel digital camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), has successfully received the shipment of what may be the world's largest high-performance optical lens. The announcement was made earlier this month by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where researchers designed the optical assemblies for the LSST.

Here is a two minute fly-through of the scope (no audio - just video):

Impressive - heading up to Chile's Atacama Desert. Would not mind going there for a visit, looks austere and gorgeous.

Yikes - big quake off the coast of Chile

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Ho. Li. Crap - amazing microphotography

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New technique - downright amazing. From Dorsa Amir:

This is so beyond what we had when I was studying biology or working in the field and I was exposed to some pretty high-end equipment.

Move over 99.96% - meet 99.995%

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Vantablack just met its match - from Science Alert:

Engineers Just Unveiled a New Blackest-Ever Material, Even Darker Than Vantablack
You might think you already know black – even super-black Vantablack, previously the blackest material known to science – but researchers just came up with a material that takes black to a new level of blackness.

The new, as-yet-unnamed ultra-black material is made from vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (CNTs), microscopic carbon strings that are a little like a fuzzy forest of tiny trees, according to the team behind the project.

And here's the rub – this CNT material can absorb more than 99.995 percent of incoming light, beating the 99.96 percent that Vantablack is able to absorb.

"In other words, it reflected 10 times less light than all other superblack materials, including Vantablack," explains an MIT release.

Like some of the best scientific discoveries, this record-setting black stuff was discovered by accident.

More at the site. Lots of uses in optics and spy cameras.

An interesting look at life

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You can find it everywhere. From the Beeb:

The desert soil that could save lives
Staring out across the desolate landscape of Valle de la Luna, the idea seems counter-intuitive.

What could the world’s driest desert, home to some of the most extreme levels of ultraviolet radiation on Earth, have to do with fighting disease? But as Michael Goodfellow, a microbiologist at Newcastle University, explains, the Atacama Desert’s inhospitality is exactly what could make it useful to us.

“The premise was that since the conditions are so harsh in the Atacama Desert, organisms become adapted to those conditions,” he says. Goodfellow hoped that if bacteria had managed to survive in such a hostile environment, they would likely produce novel chemical structures which could have important medical applications.

In 2008, he was handed a soil sample taken from the desert’s hyper-arid core, parts of which are thought to have experienced virtually no rainfall for millions of years and were once considered beyond the dry limit for life. “Quite frankly, we didn’t expect to isolate anything,” Goodfellow admits. But to his surprise, he was able to grow a diverse population of bacteria from the sample, sparking a decade of research into the desert’s microbial fauna.

The Atacama is in the public eye as it is the site of the Large Millimeter Array and the Cosmology telescopes. Fascinating place - would have loved to visit there.

Things are quiet today - CA quakes

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For once, California is very quiet - from the USGS Earthquake map:

20190912-quake.JPG

Just one small quake today and this one was far away from the Ridgecrest storm that has been going on since early July.

Now this could be interesting

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The Chinese have the largest radio telescope in the world. They heard something. From Xinhua:

China's giant telescope picks up mysterious signals from deep space
Chinese astronomers have detected repeated fast radio bursts (FRB) - mysterious signals believed to be from a source about 3 billion light years from Earth - with the largest and most sensitive radio telescope ever built.

Scientists detected the signals with the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) and they are carefully cross-checking and processing them, according to researchers at the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).

FRBs are the brightest bursts known in the universe. They are called "fast" because these blips are very short, only several milliseconds in duration. But there is no reasonable explanation for their origin.

Might be just a leak from the break-room microwave oven but you never can tell. Things might get interesting...

Here is a blurb about the building of the scope and here is the English website for FAST

Heh - ship of fools

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People looking for global warming find themselves trapped in arctic ice. From Climate Change Dispatch:

Ship Of Fools VI – Arctic ‘Global Warming’ Mission Scuppered By Hard White Substance
Yet another greenie expedition to the Arctic to raise awareness of ‘global warming’ has been scuppered by unexpectedly large quantities of ice.

This brings to a total of six the number of Ship of Fools expeditions where weather reality has made a mockery of climate theory.

According to Maritime Bulletin:

Arctic tours ship MS MALMO with 16 passengers on board got stuck in ice on Sep 3 off Longyearbyen, Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

The ship is on Arctic tour with Climate Change documentary film team, and tourists, concerned with Climate Change and melting Arctic ice.

All 16 Climate Change warriors were evacuated by helicopter in challenging conditions, all are safe. 7 crew remains on board, waiting for Coast Guard ship assistance.

The reporter, Erofey Schkvarkin clearly has a sense of humor. He adds:

Something is very wrong with Arctic ice, instead of melting as ordered by UN/IPCC, it captured the ship with Climate Change Warriors.

You can read more about these expeditions at this post from August, 2016

Finally, temperature is just one factor controlling the behavior of the ice pack. Wind and currents play a huge role as well. There was that 2013 Russian exploration ship that got stuck in the ice at Commonwealth Bay and had to be rescued (this happened in Antarctica). Here is a film of the same bay in 1912 shot by the Douglas Mawson expedition:

Choked with ice.

True North - first time in 350 years

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Interesting press release from the British Geological Society:

Hold onto your compass: true north and magnetic north cross at Greenwich for first time in 360 years.
Compasses at Greenwich will point to true north for the first time in 360 years at some point within the next two weeks.

The angle a compass needle makes between true north and magnetic north is called declination. As the magnetic field changes all the time, so does declination at any given location. For the past few hundred years in the UK, declination has been negative, meaning that all compass needles have pointed west of true north.

The line of zero declination, called the agonic, is moving westward at a present rate of around 20 km per year. By September 2019, for the first time since around 1660, the compass needle will point directly to true north at Greenwich, London, before slowly turning eastwards.

We live on a wonderfully dynamic and fluid planet. All sorts of things are in continuous flux - the magnetic poles, solar output, variable climate, sea level, composition of our atmosphere.

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