Recently in Science Category

Happy 49th birthday

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My Mom and Dad were vacationing in Massachusetts when the Apollo moon landing took place. I was working a summer job (with a pipe organ builder) and drove to their place to watch it together.

Such a pinnacle of our civilization. We did this in less than ten years from commitment to footsteps. Always loved this photo:

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Our quiet sun

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Three weeks without sunspots. The story at Spaceweather:

THREE WEEKS WITHOUT SUNSPOTS:
As July 17th comes to a close, the sun has been blank for 21 straight days--a remarkable 3 weeks without sunspots. To find an equal stretch of spotless suns in the historical record, you have to go back to July-August 2009 when the sun was emerging from a century-class solar minimum. We are now entering a new solar minimum, possibly as deep as the last one.

Solar minimum is a normal part of the solar cycle. Every 11 years or so, sunspot production sputters. Dark cores that produce solar flares and CMEs vanish from the solar disk, leaving the sun blank for long stretches of time. These quiet spells have been coming with regularity since the sunspot cycle was discovered in 1859.

However, not all solar minima are alike. The last one in 2008-2009 surprised observers with its depth and side-effects. Sunspot counts dropped to a 100-year low; the sun dimmed by 0.1%; Earth's upper atmosphere collapsed, allowing space junk to accumulate; and the pressure of the solar wind flagged while cosmic rays (normally repelled by solar wind) surged to Space Age highs. These events upended the orthodox picture of solar minimum as "uneventful."

Our sun's activity has a direct bearing on our climate - should make for some interesting times ahead...

Looks like a case of dumb criminal stealing the wrong thing - wonder if they are still alive. From the Idaho Statesman:

INL specialists left plutonium in their car. In the morning, it was gone
Two security experts from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory drove to San Antonio, Texas, in March 2017 with a sensitive mission: to retrieve dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab there.

Their task was to ensure that the radioactive materials did not fall into the wrong hands on the way back to Idaho, where the government maintains a stockpile of nuclear explosive materials for the military and others.

To ensure they got the right items, the specialists from Idaho brought radiation detectors and small samples of dangerous materials to calibrate them: specifically, a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called “dirty” radioactive bomb.

But when they stopped at a Marriott hotel just off Highway 410, in a high-crime neighborhood filled with temp agencies and ranch homes, they left those sensors on the back seat of their rented Ford Expedition. When they awoke the next morning, the window had been smashed and the special valises holding these sensors and nuclear materials had vanished.

No word in the article as to the number of Curies that were stolen. The Plutonium is not that bad. The metal is poisonous but it is only an Alpha emitter so its radioactivity can be stopped by a sheet of paper or a half-inch of air. Bad news if it is ingested but pretty harmless on the shelf. Fun because the internal decay makes it noticeably warm to the touch. About twice as dense as lead too unexpectedly heavy. Cesium is another story entirely - it (depending on the isotope) emits Gamma and Beta particles and is highly flammable. It will spontaneously catch fire in air.

Quantum spookiness

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From Oak Ridge National Laboratory:

New insights bolster Einstein’s idea about how heat moves through solids
A discovery by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a century-old theory by Albert Einstein that explains how heat moves through everything from travel mugs to engine parts.

The transfer of heat is fundamental to all materials. This new research, published in the journal Science, explored thermal insulators, which are materials that block transmission of heat.

“We saw evidence for what Einstein first proposed in 1911—that heat energy hops randomly from atom to atom in thermal insulators,” said Lucas Lindsay, materials theorist at ORNL. “The hopping is in addition to the normal heat flow through the collective vibration of atoms.”

The random energy hopping is not noticeable in materials that conduct heat well, like copper on the bottom of saucepans during cooking, but may be detectable in solids that are less able to transmit heat.

This observation advances understanding of heat conduction in thermal insulators and will aid the discovery of novel materials for applications from thermoelectrics that recover waste heat to barrier coatings that prevent transmission of heat.

More at the site - very interesting. The more we think we know, the more we find out that we don't know anything.

Fun at the Ice Cube Lab

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Quite the bit of science going on - from Nature:

Single subatomic particle illuminates mysterious origins of cosmic rays
A single subatomic particle detected at the South Pole last September is helping to solve a major cosmic mystery: what creates electrically charged cosmic rays, the most energetic particles in nature.

Follow-up studies by more than a dozen observatories suggest that researchers have, for the first time, identified a distant galaxy as a source of high-energy neutrinos

This discovery could, in turn, help scientists pin down the still mysterious source of protons and atomic nuclei that arrive to Earth from outer space, collectively called cosmic rays. The same mechanisms that produce cosmic rays should also make high-energy neutrinos.

The Ice Cube observatory detected a muon which was the result of a Nutrino decay. They were able to secure data from other observatories to look for other subatomic particles from the same source and they found it. Some great science and detective work.

There is a fascinating book about the origins and the building of the Ice Cube Lab - read it about a year ago and really enjoyed it: The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole

Amazing story from National Geographic:

Oldest Tools Outside Africa Found, Rewriting Human Story
Modern humans' distant relatives left Africa earlier than previously thought—rewriting a key chapter in humankind's epic prequel, according to a discovery  unveiled on Wednesday in Nature.

Nearly a hundred stone tools found at the Shangchen site in central China may push back the spread of our ancient cousins—hominins—out of Africa by more than a quarter million years.

The toolmakers lived at Shangchen on and off for 800,000 years between 2.1 and 1.3 million years ago, leaving behind tools that are unprecedented  outside of Africa. The site's oldest tools are roughly 300,000 years older than Dmanisi, a 1.8-million-year-old site in the Republic of Georgia with the oldest known fossils of our extinct cousin Homo erectus.

A bit of what we know so far:

Early Wanderers
Today's modern humans, Homo sapiens, trace back to a migratory pulse that left Africa some 60,000 years ago. But that migration was hardly the first to leave the continent—nor were modern humans the only hominins to make the trip. Remains of Homo erectus have been found from Georgia to Java. Neanderthals' ancestors trekked to Europe  roughly half a million years ago. At least 700,000 years ago, early hominins somehow swept through the South Pacific, giving rise to the “hobbit”  Homo floresiensis and  other island toolmakers.

Some sites have hinted at an even older hominin presence in Asia. In the 1980s, researchers suggested that stone tools in Pakistan  could be as old as two million years old. In 2004, a Chinese team found  1.66-million-year-old stone tools in north China's Nihewan basin. And in 2015, researchers made the case that a Homo erectus skull found less than three miles from Shangchen  was more than 1.6 million years old.

I love it - the more we think we have a handle on something, the more we find out that we know nothing. Raising a glass of wine to our early ancestors - I salute you!!!

The Mediterranean Diet - an update

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Whoops - the New England Journal of Medicine paper has been retracted. From National Public Radio by way of Retraction Watch:

Errors Trigger Retraction Of Study On Mediterranean Diet's Heart Benefits
Ask just about anybody, and you'll probably hear that a healthy diet is one full of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts and fish — what's called Mediterranean diet. A lot of research has suggested people who eat this way tend to be healthier, but it's been harder to prove whether that is because of the diet or some other factor.

So in 2013, many took notice of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that seemed to provide some proof. The study found that people eating the Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil were 30 percent less likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes than people assigned to a low-fat diet. People who stuck with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts had a 28 percent lower risk than those asked to follow a low-fat diet.

The results got wide media attention, including from NPR.

But the New England Journal of Medicine retracted the paper Wednesday because of problems in the way the study was carried out.

It was a problem with the randomization of the data:

It turns out approximately 14 percent of the more than 7,400 study participants hadn't been assigned randomly to either the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one. When couples joined the study together, both had been picked to follow the same diet. At one of the 11 participating study sites, the lead investigator had assigned the same diet to an entire village and didn't tell the rest of the investigators.

Oops - a lot of work went out the window just to make things easier for the participants.

An interesting bit of information - from Science Alert:

A Crucial Archaeological Dating Tool Is Wrong, And It Could Change History as We Know It
One of the most important dating tools used in archaeology may sometimes give misleading data, new study shows - and it could change whole historical timelines as a result.

The discrepancy is due to significant fluctuations in the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, and it could force scientists to rethink how they use ancient organic remains to measure the passing of time.

A comparison of radiocarbon ages across the Northern Hemisphere suggests we might have been a little too hasty in assuming how the isotope - also known as radiocarbon - diffuses, potentially shaking up controversial conversations on the timing of events in history.

The ratio between C12 (stable) and C14 (radioactive) is not fixed - it varies. Oopsie!

Ho Li Crap - quite the shipwreck

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From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

New Details on Discovery of San Jose Shipwreck
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) recently obtained authorization by Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), Switzerland AG, and the Colombian government to release new details from the successful search for the three-century old San José —a 62-gun, three-masted Spanish galleon ship that sank with a cargo believed to be worth billions of dollars. The ship, which is often called the “holy grail of shipwrecks,” went down with a treasure of gold, silver, and emeralds in 1708 during a battle with British ships in the War of Spanish Succession.

The legendary wreck was discovered off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, on Nov. 27, 2015, by a team of international scientists and engineers during an expedition aboard the Colombian Navy research ship ARC Malpelo led by MAC’s Chief Project Archaeologist Roger Dooley. It was found more than 600 meters below the surface during a search initiated by MAC and approved by The Colombian Ministry of Culture. The search was supervised by Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia (ICANH) and Dirección General Marítima (DIMAR).

WHOI used an autonomous underwater vehicle called REMUS 6000 to survey an area off Colombia’s Barú Peninsula:

“The REMUS 6000 was the ideal tool for the job, since it’s capable of conducting long-duration missions over wide areas,” said WHOI engineer and expedition leader Mike Purcell.

Finding high-profile wrecks is nothing new for REMUS, which played an instrumental role in finding the wreckage of Air France 447 in 2011. The airplane had crashed in 2009 several hundred miles off the northeastern coast of Brazil and landed deep in the ocean on some of the most rugged seafloor terrain on Earth. REMUS was also used to map and photograph the Titanic wreck site during a 2010 expedition.

The homepage for the REMUS 6000 is here. Some very nice specs... Amazing photographs:

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Earthquake prediction

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Some advancement in Earthquake Prediction - from Nature:

In Japan, small shakes presage big quakes
Clusters of tiny earthquakes that happen every three years could help to signal when the next big one will hit Japan, researchers report in Science.

Small, subtle quakes happen in many places where a slab of sea floor dives beneath a continent, such as in the US Pacific Northwest or off the coast of Chile. But the study of seismic activity in Japan is the first to show that they happen in regular episodes, and that those events can precede larger earthquakes.

If the same patterns hold in other earthquake-prone regions, they could improve seismic risk estimates there, too.

A bit more:

Stress monitoring
Because the 2011 Tohoku earthquake relieved geological stress, Uchida says, that particular section of the fault is not likely to move in a large earthquake any time soon. But by monitoring slow slip to the north and south of Tohoku, seismologists may get a better idea of how much stress is building there and when a large earthquake is likely to strike again. “It means earthquake probabilities should be raised during times of accelerated [slow] slip,” says Gavin Hayes, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado.

Slow slip has happened before other large earthquakes, such as the magnitude-8.1 Iquique earthquake in Chile in 2014. In 2014, off the coast of Guerrero, Mexico, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake occurred about two months after slow slip began, says Mathilde Radiguet, a seismologist at ISTerre Institute of Earth Sciences in Grenoble, France.

And slow slip is common along the Pacific Northwest coast, a spot thought to be ripe for a large earthquake in the zone known as Cascadia. For the past five weeks, in a fairly common occurrence, tiny quakes have been marching south from Vancouver Island and into Washington state. “It is key for us to know as much as possible about unsteady slow slip in Cascadia,” says Heidi Houston, a seismologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

More on the Cascadian Episodic Tremor and Slip Events at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network - new entries are at the bottom of the page.

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.

CHINESE SPACE STATION TIANGONG-1 FALLING FAST
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:

PROVIDING OBJECTIVE SCIENTIFIC EVALUATION AND ANALYSES FOR MORE THAN 55 YEARS
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:

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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.

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