Recently in Science Category

Great article on citogenesis at the Theory, Evolution, and Games Group (great website for math nerds):

Danger of motivatiogenesis in interdisciplinary work
Randall Munroe has a nice old xkcd on citogenesis: the way factoids get created from bad checking of sources. But let me summarize the process without direct reference to Wikipedia:

1. Somebody makes up a factoid and writes it somewhere without citation.
2. Another person then uses the factoid in passing in a more authoritative work, maybe sighting the point in 1 or not.
3. Further work inherits the citation from 2, without verifying its source, further enhancing the legitimacy of the factoid.
4. The cycle repeats.

Soon, everybody knows this factoid and yet there is no ground truth to back it up. I’m sure we can all think of some popular examples. Social media certainly seems to make this sort of loop easier.

Randall's cartoon can be found here and it is so true. This is how Global Warming got a foothold even though the actual measured data do not add up. All the "scare quotes" come from tweaked computer models.

Bryant, WA sustained a Magnitude 2.9 earthquake earlier this afternoon. Rattle the plates in the cupboard but no structural damage.

This hits home as I have always had a really good idea of where North was. I have not done any double-blind testing but now I might want to. At least sit in an office chair, spin and shut my eyes. From Science News:

People can sense Earth’s magnetic field, brain waves suggest
A new analysis of people’s brain waves when surrounded by different magnetic fields suggests that people have a “sixth sense” for magnetism.
Birds, fish and some other creatures can sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it for navigation (SN: 6/14/14, p. 10). Scientists have long wondered whether humans, too, boast this kind of magnetoreception. Now, by exposing people to an Earth-strength magnetic field pointed in different directions in the lab, researchers from the United States and Japan have discovered distinct brain wave patterns that occur in response to rotating the field in a certain way.

These findings, reported in a study published online March 18 in eNeuro, offer evidence that people do subconsciously respond to Earth’s magnetic field — although it’s not yet clear exactly why or how our brains use this information.

“The first impression when I read the [study] was like, ‘Wow, I cannot believe it!’” says Can Xie, a biophysicist at Peking University in Beijing. Previous tests of human magnetoreception have yielded inconclusive results. This new evidence “is one step forward for the magnetoreception field and probably a big step for the human magnetic sense,” he says. “I do hope we can see replications and further investigations in the near future.”

During the experiment, 26 participants each sat with their eyes closed in a dark, quiet chamber lined with electrical coils. These coils manipulated the magnetic field inside the chamber such that it remained the same strength as Earth’s natural field but could be pointed in any direction. Participants wore an EEG cap that recorded the electrical activity of their brains while the surrounding magnetic field rotated in various directions.

Makes sense - I'll have to check this out.

From the UK Telegraph:

Japanese scientists take 'significant step' towards bringing the woolly mammoth back to life
With their enormous shaggy torsos and long curved tusks, the imposing creatures last walked on earth during the Ice Age.

Fast forward thousands of years and the woolly mammoth may once again make an appearance on this planet – after Japanese scientists claim to have taken a “significant step” towards bringing the long-extinct animals back to life.

Researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from the remains of a mammoth named Yuka, who has lain frozen in Siberian permafrost for more than 28,000 years.

As a first step, the team, from Kindai University in Osaka, confirmed the authenticity of Yuka’s extracted tissue samples using whole-genome sequencing techniques.

Scientists then injected cell nuclei from the extinct woolly mammoth’s muscle tissue into mouse cell eggs - resulting in signs of biological activities, according to the study, published by Nature’s on-line journal Scientific Reports.

The paper is here: Nature: Scientific Reports

Signs of biological activities of 28,000-year-old mammoth nuclei in mouse oocytes visualized by live-cell imaging
The 28,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammoth, named ‘Yuka’, were found in Siberian permafrost. Here we recovered the less-damaged nucleus-like structures from the remains and visualised their dynamics in living mouse oocytes after nuclear transfer. Proteomic analyses demonstrated the presence of nuclear components in the remains. Nucleus-like structures found in the tissue homogenate were histone- and lamin-positive by immunostaining. In the reconstructed oocytes, the mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation and partial nuclear formation; however, the full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed. DNA damage levels, which varied among the nuclei, were comparable to those of frozen-thawed mouse sperm and were reduced in some reconstructed oocytes. Our work provides a platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species.

It has to be Portland - the stupidity is unreal. From Law Blogger Jonathan Turley:

NAACP Declares Portland Earthquake Warnings To Be Racist
There is a bizarre controversy in Portland, Oregon after the city began to put up notices on buildings that it deemed unsafe for possible earthquakes. The city is trying to prepare for “the big one” — a massive earthquake that is now overdue. It is identifying older buildings susceptible to collapse with public signs. However, it is facing a challenge from the NAACP of Portland which has declared the signs to be the embodiment of “white supremacy” and racism. There is also a challenge for building owners.

The NAACP declared that the policy to warn the public “exacerbates a long history of systemic and structural betrayals of trust and policies of displacement, demolition, and dispossession predicated on classism, racism, and white supremacy.” The reason is that many of the older buildings are owned by African Americans that that the posted warnings will make it difficult for them to rent space or sell the property.

Rev. E.D. Mondaine, a pastor at Celebration Tabernacle Church in north Portland and president of the Portland NAACP chapter declared that “We will no longer allow the same principles that have driven us out again. We will no longer allow these things that have driven us from our community.”

Given the projected 50 percent chance of a massive earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon coast in the next 50 years, one would think that the racist act would be not to warn occupants of the danger. Otherwise, these buildings will remain until they are likely to collapse on the occupants.

The new law requires the posting of the signs and the filing of a record of compliance. The warning reads “This is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake.”

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a very big deal - history of major earthquakes about every 400-500 years and the last one was January, 1700, just over 300 years ago. The coastal cities will be toast. All we are talking about is a sign on each building warning people of the possibility. I thought education was a good thing. The Rev. is just another fscking self-serving activist looking to get in front of the cameras.

Do not forget - tomorrow is Pi Day

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Tomorrow is 03/14 - the first digits of Pi (3.14159...)

Ways to celebrate can be found at Pi Day - some retailers are offering special Pi deals

An earthquake in Hawaii

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Mag 5.5 on Big Island - more information from the U.S. Geological Survey

Shallow so it was most definitely felt - from Big Island Video News:

Magnitude 5.5 Earthquake Jolts Hawaii Island
A Magnitude 5.5 earthquake struck the south flank of Kīlauea Volcano on Hawaiʻi Island at 12:55 a.m. HST early Wednesday morning.

The earthquake occurred at a depth of 6.3 km and was felt all across the Big Island. It was felt strongest in Volcano Village.

For a short time, the USGS website also measured the earthquake at a possible Magnitude 4.8, but later appeared to confirm a Magnitude 5.3 measurement. The strength of the quake was later revised to a 5.5.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which said the earthquake struck “in the Hilina region of Kīlauea Volcano,” reported that no tsunami is expected after the event. “However, some areas may have experienced strong shaking,” the PTWC said.

Japan has plans - the Moon

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They plan to send people to the moon. Toyota is building their rover. From EnGadget:

Japan's moon rover will be made by Toyota
Toyota is going to the moon. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has teamed up with the carmaker to build a pressurized self-driving rover that will land on the lunar surface in 2029. The six-wheeled transporter will be able to carry two humans for a distance of 10,000 kilometers using solar power and Toyota's fuel cell technology. The rover will be about the size of two minibuses, with 13 square meters of habitable space, and the astronauts on board will be able to take their suits off inside the vehicle as they explore. It will land on the moon before the human expedition arrives, and travel independently to meet them.

Here is a short video - watch your volume as there is loud percussion:

Very cool - I love my Highlander.

Clueless - WA State Governor Inslee

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Sad to say but we have an idiot running our state and he wants to run our nation - from Breitbart:

Inslee: Combating Climate Change Foremost Duty of the Next President Because the ‘World’s on Fire’
Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), a 2020 presidential hopeful, said climate change is the most important job for the next president because “the world’s on fire.”

Inslee said, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climbed change and we’re the last generation that can do something about. We have one shot, that’s the next administration. We have to have this be the primary, first, foremost and paramount duty of the next administration because the world’s on fire and we’ve got to act and we’ve got a climate denier in the White House.”

Not a climate denier - a global warming skeptic. There is a huge difference between these two.
The science was never "settled"

A bit of shaking going on

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Nothing major - largest quake is mag 4.8 but there are a lot of them happening along the Cascadian subduction zone:


Great news from Reason:

Life-Saving Golden Rice Finally Gets to Poor Farmers Despite Environmentalist Opposition
Golden Rice which has been genetically engineered to have higher levels of the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene is finally about be to approved for planting by poor farmers in Bangladesh. This a big step toward improving the health of some of the poorest people on the planet. Vitamin A deficiency causes blindness in between 250,000 and 500,000 children each year, half of whom die within 12 months, according to the World Health Organization. A study by German researchers in 2014 estimated that activist opposition to the deployment of Golden Rice has resulted in the loss of 1.4 million life-years in just India alone.

Environmentalist ideologues have fought fiercely for two decades to prevent this crop from being offered to poor farmers in developing countries. Among other things, they hired thugs to rip up test fields of the grain at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

In 2016, an open letter signed by 100 Nobel Laureates directly called on "Greenpeace to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general." The laureates pointed out that "scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production. There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity."

Good - the jerks who oppose things like this are doing so out of willful ignorance. Genetic manipulation is doing the same as what is done by nature and by selective breeding, just faster and more precise.

Light pollution

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I have been very surprised and happy to note that the light pollution at the island is a lot better (way mo' better!) than the farm in Maple Falls - the farm has a lot of particulates in the air and the city of Abbotsford is about 30 miles to the North.

Randal Munroe has a comic about Light Pollution - be sure to hover your pointer over for the hidden message:

The plucky little rover - Curiosity

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Not dead, just sleeping - from NASA:

After a Reset, Curiosity Is Operating Normally
NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential to support life.

Curiosity encountered a hurdle last Friday, when a hiccup during boot-up interrupted its planned activities and triggered a protective safe mode. The rover was brought out of this mode on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and is otherwise operating normally, having successfully booted up over 30 times without further issues.

Throughout the weekend, Curiosity was sending and receiving technical data, communicating with the team in order to help them pinpoint the cause of the issue.

"We're still not sure of its exact cause and are gathering the relevant data for analysis," said Steven Lee, Curiosity's deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the Curiosity mission. "The rover experienced a one-time computer reset but has operated normally ever since, which is a good sign," he added. "We're currently working to take a snapshot of its memory to better understand what might have happened."

Very cool - Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 and was expected to have a two year service life.

Solar cooling - from NASA

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This article is from a couple of months ago but the cooling has continued so it is more than relevant.
From Dr. Tony Philips writing at Spaceweather Sept. 27, 2018:

The Chill of Solar Minimum
The sun is entering one of the deepest Solar Minima of the Space Age. Sunspots have been absent for most of 2018, and the sun’s ultraviolet output has sharply dropped. New research shows that Earth’s upper atmosphere is responding.

“We see a cooling trend,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA’s Langley Research Center. “High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy. If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.”

These results come from the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite. SABER monitors infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air 100 to 300 kilometers above our planet’s surface. By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the thermal state of gas at the very top of the atmosphere–a layer researchers call “the thermosphere.”

“The thermosphere always cools off during Solar Minimum. It’s one of the most important ways the solar cycle affects our planet,” explains Mlynczak, who is the associate principal investigator for SABER.

Love it - they are using actual measurements. The usual global warming crap is outputs from partisan computer models. These models have no bearing on reality, they cannot forecast and what is more important, they cannot hindcast.

Now this is interesting

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Not a user but I do like to follow the technology - from New Scientist:

Engineered yeast can brew up the active ingredients in cannabis plants
Genes from the cannabis plant have been added to yeast strains to enable them to make cannabinoids, key chemicals from the plant that have therapeutic value.

The “cannayeasts” should make it possible to turn sugar into pure forms of many different cannabinoids, and to do so more cheaply and with less environmental damage than farming.

“It gives us access to all these rare cannabinoids that might even be better therapeutics,” says Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the team behind the work.

Our bodies produce cannabinoids to help regulate everything from memory to appetite. Marijuana plants make more than 100 chemicals that can also bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our nervous system.

The main cannabinoid in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is what makes people feel “stoned” when they take cannabis. The next most abundant is cannabidiol (CBD). This helps reduce the symptoms of some forms of epilepsy, and may be useful for treating a few other conditions too. Various forms of CBD, such as e-spliffs, have become fashionable lately, and are claimed to have all kinds of benefits. (CBD is legal in many countries where cannabis remains illegal.)

Yeasts are fascinating little critters - they give us booze and now this.

From Phys Org:

Navy files for patent on room-temperature superconductor
A scientist working for the U.S. Navy has filed for a patent on a room-temperature superconductor, representing a potential paradigm shift in energy transmission and computer systems.

Salvatore Cezar Pais is listed as the inventor on the Navy's patent application made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday.

The application claims that a room-temperature superconductor can be built using a wire with an insulator core and an aluminum PZT (lead zirconate titanate) coating deposited by vacuum evaporation with a thickness of the London penetration depth and polarized after deposition.

An electromagnetic coil is circumferentially positioned around the coating such that when the coil is activated with a pulsed current, a non-linear vibration is induced, enabling room temperature superconductivity.

The major problem is how strong the material is - superconducting magnets are used to create very intense magnetic fields (think medical imaging) and the internal forces on these magnets are huge. Still... Baby Steps.

Makes perfect sense - the Greens are so wrapped up in renewables that they will hate anything that eliminates the need for this costly and unreliable non-base load form of energy. From Forbes:

The Real Reason They Hate Nuclear Is Because It Means We Don't Need Renewables
Why is it that, from the U.S. and Canada to Spain and France, it is progressives and socialists who say they care deeply about the climate, not conservative climate skeptics, who are seeking to shut down nuclear plants?

After all, the two greatest successes when it comes to nuclear energy are Sweden and France, two nations held up by democratic socialists for decades as models of the kind of societies they want.

It is only nuclear energy, not solar and wind, that has radically and rapidly decarbonized energy supplies while increasing wages and growing societal wealth.

And it is only nuclear that has, by powering high-speed trains everywhere from France to Japan to China, decarbonized transportation, which is the source of about one-third of the emissions humankind creates.

And the reason:

The Unconscious Appeal of Renewables
Ordinary people tell pollsters they want renewables for the same reason they buy products labeled “natural”: they are in the grip of an unconscious appeal-to-nature fallacy.

The appeal-to-nature fallacy is the mistaken belief that the world can be divided into “natural” and “unnatural” things, and that the former are better, safer, or cleaner than the latter.

In reality, solar farms require hundreds of times more land, an order of magnitude more mining for materials, and create hundreds of times more waste, than do nuclear plants.

And wind farms kill hundreds of thousands of threatened and endangered birds, may make the hoary bat go extinct, and kill more people than nuclear plants.

But because of our positive feelings toward sunlight, water and wind, which we view as more natural than uranium, many people unconsciously assume renewables are better for the environment.

Time for the Adults in the room to step up and start building molten salt reactors. Cheap, safe and will burn old nuclear waste from our existing reactors as fuel. Get rid of that problem.

Look up tonight

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Got a Snow Moon rising. Here are the names for the Full Moons throughout the year. Here is why tonight's moon is special - from NASA's Space Weather:

SUPER SNOW MOON:There's a full Moon tonight--the biggest and brightest of 2019. According to folklore, it's the "Snow Moon." According to science, it's a Super Snow Moon, inflated in size and luminosity because it occurs on the nearside of the Moon's orbit.

Full moons vary in size because the Moon's orbit is not a circle, it's an ellipse: diagram. One side of the Moon's orbit, called "perigee," is 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other side, "apogee." Today's "supermoon" becomes full just 6 hours away from perigee, a coincidence that makes it almost 8% wider and 16% brighter than an average full Moon. 

But will we be able to tell the difference just by looking? A 16% difference in brightness can easily be masked by clouds or the glare of urban lights.  Also, there are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon looks much like any other. They're all beautiful. Monitor the realtime gallery for photos.

Strange phenomena around the USA in the last two months - a tranche of clickable headlines:

Very curious. This next item I would take with a grain of salt as there are no links to source materials but here we go.
From Above Top Secret (this post is from 2013 so not related to the current spate of booms):

"Canon Booms" Heard And Felt For 2-3 Years Prior To 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes
There has been speculation recently that the loud boom sounds and vibrations being reported around the USA could be related to the New Madrid fault zone. So I decided to look at some of the accounts from the survivors of the 1811-1812 New Madrid series of earthquakes, which supposedly included 4 mega quakes, 3 major quakes, and thousands of minor quakes.

What I found is that several people wrote accounts of hearing what they described as loud booms that sounded like cannon blasts for up to 2-3 years (depending on the location) before the earthquakes happened. The descriptions talk about these loud booms often being accompanied by vibration and shaking sensations. The accounts describe these loud "cannon booms" as happening also right before the earthquakes happened.

They describe hearing the same loud booms they had been hearing for up to 3 years right before the big earthquakes hit. The only difference was that the sound booms right before the quakes hit were louder than the previous booms that had been happening for the previous 2-3 years.

New Madrid? From InfoGalactic:

1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes
The 1811–12 New Madrid earthquakes were an intense intraplate earthquake series beginning with an initial earthquake of moment magnitude (7.5 -7.9) on December 16, 1811 followed by a moment magnitude 7.4 aftershock on the same day. They remain the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains in recorded history. They, as well as the seismic zone of their occurrence, were named for the Mississippi River town of New Madrid, then part of the Louisiana Territory, now within Missouri.

There are estimates that the earthquakes were felt strongly over roughly 130,000 square kilometers (50,000 sq mi), and moderately across nearly 3 million square kilometers (1 million square miles). The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, by comparison, was felt moderately over roughly 16,000 km2 (6,200 sq mi).

Interesting times...

Interesting - measurement

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From Science:

You know kilo, mega, and giga. Is the metric system ready for ronna and quecca?
Fresh from redefining the kilogram and other fundamental measures, the guardians of the metric system have set their sights on another upgrade: new prefixes for outrageously large and small numbers.

A proposal lodged with the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris recommends new names—ronna and quecca—as prefixes for 1027 and 1030, respectively. They would be joined by their microscopic counterparts, ronto for 10−27, and quecto for 10−30. If approved, the new terms could be formally introduced in 2022. They would be the first prefixes added since 1991.

The planned update responds to the massive growth in global data storage, which by the early 2030s is forecast to reach 1 yottabyte (1024)—the top of the existing scale. Without new prefixes, computer scientists will have no way to officially talk about what comes next. At the other end of the scale, quantum physicists have measured atomic forces as small as 42 yoctonewtons. Much smaller and they run out of metrological road.

A fun time to be alive - the science of measurement keeps breaking boundaries. Back when I was in college, I was interested in bio-luminescence and back then (don't ask), detecting a single photon was a black art requiring chilled equipment and electrically shielded room. Now, it can be done on a desktop with a $30 sensor at room temperature.

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge? The first person to analyze coffee and to isolate and identify Caffine

From InfoGalactic:

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge
Friedlieb (or Friedlob, occasionally misnamed as "Friedrich") Ferdinand Runge (born near Hamburg on 8 February 1795, died in Oranienburg on 25 March 1867) was a German analytical chemist.

Runge conducted chemical experiments from a young age, serendipitously identifying the mydriatic effects of belladonna (deadly nightshade) extract.

In 1819, he demonstrated his finding to Goethe, who encouraged him to analyse coffee. A few months later, Runge identified caffeine.

A saint in my pantheon. No relation to the brilliant mathemetician Carl David Tolmé Runge

Tomorrow's eclipse of the Moon

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Nice post from Cliff Mass about tomorrow's total eclipse:

Will you be able to see the Super Blood Wolf Total Lunar Eclipse on Sunday Evening?
There will be a total lunar eclipse on Sunday night that potentially could be quite a sight.

The shadow of the earth will start covering the full moon around 6:36 PM (actually the penumbra, where the light from the sun begins to be reduced). The total lunar eclipse will begin at 8:41 PM and end at 9:43 PM. The eclipse will be over at 11:48 PM.

Much more at the site - timings and weather forecast for the Pacific Northwest. Going to keep a camera handy.

Supersize that - LHC

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The LHC is the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It discovered the Higgs Boson and has pioneered basic particle physics for the last eighteen years. Now, they want to build a bigger one. From Motherboard:

CERN’s New Collider Design Is Four Times Larger Than the LHC
The 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is widely considered to be one of the most important scientific breakthroughs in history. It validated a half-century of research about the basic building blocks of matter, and remains the crowning achievement of modern particle physics.

Now, CERN wants to follow up on the LHC’s smashing success with a super-sized structure called the Future Circular Collider (FCC). This next-generation particle accelerator would boast 10 times the observational power of the LHC and would stretch across 100 kilometers (62 miles), encircling the Swiss city of Geneva and much of the surrounding area.

CERN published its first conceptual design report for the FCC on Tuesday. The four-volume roadmap was developed over five years by 1,300 contributors based at 150 universities, according to a statement.

Very cool but we could have had it a long time ago - the history of the Superconducting Super Collider is a tragic one (here, here, here and here)

Curious times - Magnetic Field

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From Nature:

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why
Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

Not a crisis - the poles have wandered a lot before, gotten stronger, gotten weaker. They have even flipped with the "north" pole being in Antarctica. Still, very curious and worth study. Glad that GPS is so prevalent - compasses are going to be dodgy for navigation.

First photos of Ultima Thule

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From NASA's Space Weather:

FIRST IMAGES OF ULTIMA THULE: The first high-resolution images of Ultima Thule have reached Earth following New Horizons' historic flyby on New Year's Day. Hot off the presses, the photos reveal a pair of roughly spherical planetestimals stuck together in the middle. The contact binary strangely resembles BB-8:


"This flyby is a historic achievement," says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Never before has any spacecraft team tracked down such a small body so far away in the abyss of space. We're getting our first close-up look at ancient planetesimals."

Planetesimals are the building blocks of planets. Here in the inner solar system, no pristine examples remain for us to study. They have been swallowed by planets, hammered by asteroids, and scorched by solar radiation. Ultima Thule, however, has been preserved in the deep freeze of the outer solar system for more than 4 billion years. It is truly a relic of the genesis of planets.

Mission scientists believe that Ultima Thule formed by accretion. A swarm of smaller planetesimals gathered under the pull of their own meagre gravity to form two spherical bodies, medium-sized planetesimals which themselves slowly bumped together and stuck. The result was Ultima Thule.

These are just the first thumbnails - resolution is about 140 Meters per pixel. Much higher resolution (much larger and longer to transmit) files are going to be arriving over the next couple of weeks. An amazing mission.

RIP Nancy Roman

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From National Public Radio:

Nancy Grace Roman, 'Mother Of Hubble' Space Telescope, Has Died, At Age 93
When Nancy Grace Roman was a child, her favorite object to draw was the moon.

Her mother used to take her on walks under the nighttime sky and show her constellations, or point out the colorful swirls of the aurora. Roman loved to look up at the stars and imagine.

Eventually, her passion for stargazing blossomed into a career as a renowned astronomer. Roman was one of the first female executives at NASA, where she served as the agency's first chief of astronomy.

Known as the "Mother of Hubble," for her role in making the Hubble Space Telescope a reality, Roman worked at NASA for nearly two decades. She died on Dec. 25 at the age of 93.

Roman fought to earn her place in a field dominated by men, paving the path for future female scientists. She was born in Nashville, Tenn. in 1925 and organized an astronomy club in fifth grade. She attended high school in Baltimore, where she requested to take a second year of algebra instead of a fifth year of Latin.

A wonderful life.

Our quiet sun - the BBC

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Just ran into this broadcast from January 17th, 2014 - the numbers are even worse today:

We have recently had a modern warm period starting from about 1970 to 2016 or so but the Sun is rapidly cooling and it is the Sun that drives our climate - not burning fossil fuels. From NASA's Space Weather website:


Oh. But wait. I forgot. The science is settled.

Earthrise - 50 years ago

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On Christmas Eve, 1968 astronaut Bill Anders took this photograph. Changed our perspective forever:


We have come a long way since then. Mostly good. Some really bad.
This is where we live and we need to take better care of it.

A problem with numbers - STEM

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Carly Cassella writing at Science Alert has a problem with numbers. No problem with narrative - she gets that just fine. Just numbers. Her article:

Turns Out We Still Have a Huge TV Scientist Stereotype Problem
Black PantherGravity. Annihilation. Hidden Figures. In the past few years, the big screen has been graced by some truly awe-inspiring female scientists and engineers.

But even though we now have Shuri to outsmart Bruce Banner and all seven of his PhD's, data shows that media portrayals of scientists are still reinforcing an outdated early 20th century stereotype of what a scientist is.

A new analysis from the Lyda Hill Foundation and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media reveals just how little diversity there truly is on screen.

The study examined over 1,000 leading or major characters taken from the most popular movies and TV shows between 2007 and 2017.

No matter how much progress we think we have made, it appears that the media's narrow portrayal of scientists continues to reinforce the same classic stereotypes about them being brainy white men.

OK - I get your drift. Carly's Thesis (paragraph seven):

Of all the STEM professionals portrayed in film and television, male scientists once again outnumbered female scientists by nearly two-to-one.

Emphasis mine. Now, from paragraph twelve:

Women are noticeably missing in the scientific arena, holding less than a quarter of all STEM jobs in the US, according to a 2015 study. But will more role models actually fix this discrepancy?

OK so Carly is right in one aspect of her article, there is a disproportionate representation of Women Scientists as portrayed on Television and Movies. In reality, they are four to one. In the media, they are two to one. In the media, they are over-represented by a factor of 200%, not the other way around.

But that would not fit the narrative now, would it.

A fungus among us

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I knew about this puppy for a long time but they did some more research and have a much clearer idea about what it really is. From LiveScience:

This Humongous Fungus Has Been Around Since the Birth of Socrates
A humongous fungus lurking underground in Michigan is exceptionally old, tremendously heavy and has a curiously low mutation rate, a new study finds.

Here are the fungus' impressive stats: It's at least 2,500 years old (although it's likely much older), weighs nearly 882,000 lbs. (400,000 kilograms) and spans about 75 hectares (0.75 square kilometers, or 140 American football fields). As for its mutation rate, or the rate at which random genetic tweaks occur, it's fleetingly low, said study co-principal investigator Johann Bruhn, a professor emeritus of plant sciences at the University of Missouri.

A bit more:

Bruhn first came across the absolute unit (Armillaria gallica) in the late 1980s, when he was doing an unrelated experiment in the forest of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He roped in two more fungal experts, James Anderson, now at the University of Toronto, and Myron Smith, now at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, who are also co-principal investigators on the new study. The giant fungus stunned the researchers, who initially vastly underestimated its age and size. (Back then, they thought the fungus was about 1,500 years old, 220,000 lbs. (100,000 kg) and about 37 hectares (0.3 square km), according to their 1992 study published in the journal Nature.)

At the time, the public went bonkers over the giant fungus, which is also known as the honey mushroom, Bruhn recalled. Late night comedian David Letterman made a "Top 10" list about it; Johnny Carson cracked jokes; and a New York City restaurant even called to see if it could purchase the fungus to serve on its dinner menu.

The more we look around us, the more amazing this planet becomes.

Sunspots - the numbers

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A great little chart from NASA's Spaceweather:

Spotless Days
Current Stretch: 3 days
2018 total: 197 days (59%)
2017 total: 104 days (28%)
2016 total: 32 days (9%)
2015 total: 0 days (0%)
2014 total: 1 day (<1%)
2013 total: 0 days (0%)
2012 total: 0 days (0%)
2011 total: 2 days (<1%)
2010 total: 51 days (14%)
2009 total: 260 days (71%)
2008 total: 268 days (73%)
2007 total: 152 days (42%)
2006 total: 70 days (19%)
Updated 29 Nov 2018

Really shows the progression of the solar cycle and how low the sunspot numbers have been getting. Sunspots are a great proxy for solar output and our sun has been getting very very quiet.

Another cycle or two of this decline and we will be in very cold territory.

Now this is an interesting project

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But the results are a bit creepy - from PathoMap/About:

The idea for PathoMap began in 2010 when Dr. Christopher Mason, the project’s principal investigator, picked up his young daughter from daycare. She was playing with all the toys, putting them in her mouth, and then her friends would come and put the toys in their mouths. This launched Dr. Mason’s question, “What is on those toys, and the surfaces in this environment, and all the other environments, and how much is my daughter absorbing every day?” Thus, PathoMap was born.

The molecular profiling initiative launched in the summer of 2013 with the help of undergraduates from Cornell University and Macaulay Honors College. The study launched with two core objectives.

    • The primary goal was to study the microbiome of an urban, metropolitan environment. This was the first study of its kind to be launched at such a large scale and to comprehensively map the microbiome and metagenome on the surfaces of a city.
    • The second objective is to eventually develop a pathogen monitoring “weather map.” The map would be able to monitor the city and send alerts whenever a potential outbreak is detected, and also serves as a long-term view of the dynamics and health of the city at the molecular level.

From their main website: PathoMap:

Creating a Molecular Portrait of New York City
One swab at a time
PathoMap is a research project by Weill Cornell Medical College to study the microbiome and metagenome of the built environment of NYC.

Check out the full findings here.

The creepy part? From the full findings:

Almost half of all DNA present on the subway’s surfaces matches no known organism.

And an interesting bit - talk about persistant:

One station flooded during Hurricane Sandy still resembles a marine environment.

Hurricane Sandy was six years ago. Science in the raw - I love it!

Congratulations NASA and InSight

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From the National Arrows and Spears Administration:

NASA InSight Lander Arrives on Martian Surface
Mars has just received its newest robotic resident. NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander successfully touched down on the Red Planet after an almost seven-month, 300-million-mile (458-million-kilometer) journey from Earth.

InSight's two-year mission will be to study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed.

InSight launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California May 5. The lander touched down Monday, Nov. 26, near Mars' equator on the western side of a flat, smooth expanse of lava called Elysium Planitia, at 11:52:59 a.m. PST (2:52:59 p.m. EST).

NASA doing what it should. Not climate bullshit or social justice.

Earth shattering Ka-Boom

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From Science Advances:

A large impact crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northwest Greenland
We report the discovery of a large impact crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northwest Greenland. From airborne radar surveys, we identify a 31-kilometer-wide, circular bedrock depression beneath up to a kilometer of ice. This depression has an elevated rim that cross-cuts tributary subglacial channels and a subdued central uplift that appears to be actively eroding. From ground investigations of the deglaciated foreland, we identify overprinted structures within Precambrian bedrock along the ice margin that strike tangent to the subglacial rim. Glaciofluvial sediment from the largest river draining the crater contains shocked quartz and other impact-related grains. Geochemical analysis of this sediment indicates that the impactor was a fractionated iron asteroid, which must have been more than a kilometer wide to produce the identified crater. Radiostratigraphy of the ice in the crater shows that the Holocene ice is continuous and conformable, but all deeper and older ice appears to be debris rich or heavily disturbed. The age of this impact crater is presently unknown, but from our geological and geophysical evidence, we conclude that it is unlikely to predate the Pleistocene inception of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Wonder what they will find when they start poking around Antarctica...

Oops - Ocean warming? Not so much

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From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Climate contrarian uncovers scientific error, upends major ocean warming study
Researchers with UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Princeton University recently walked back scientific findings published last month that showed oceans have been heating up dramatically faster than previously thought as a result of climate change.

In a paper published Oct. 31 in the journal Nature, researchers found that ocean temperatures had warmed 60 percent more than outlined by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

However, the conclusion came under scrutiny after mathematician Nic Lewis, a critic of the scientific consensus around human-induced warming, posted a critique of the paper on the blog of Judith Curry, another well-known critic.

“The findings of the ... paper were peer reviewed and published in the world’s premier scientific journal and were given wide coverage in the English-speaking media,” Lewis wrote. “Despite this, a quick review of the first page of the paper was sufficient to raise doubts as to the accuracy of its results.”

Co-author Ralph Keeling, climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, took full blame and thanked Lewis for alerting him to the mistake.

This is the problem with much of so-called climate science these days. They are relying too much on various computer models for their work and we are getting the classic Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The authors could have simply measured the ocean temperature and found out that their model did not jive with reality. How would they measure the temperature of the ocean you ask?
Say hello to Project Argo:

Brief History of Argo
The name Argo was chosen to emphasize the strong complementary relationship of the global float array with the Jason satellite altimeter mission. In Greek mythology Jason sailed in a ship called "Argo" to capture the golden fleece.

Together the Argo and Jason data sets are assimilated into computer models developed by GODAE OceanView that will allow a test of our ability to forecast ocean climate. For the first time, the physical state of the upper ocean is being systematically measured and the data assimilated in near real-time into computer models. Argo builds on other upper-ocean ocean observing networks, extending their coverage in space an time, their depth range and accuracy, and enhancing them through the addition of salinity and velocity measurements. Argo is not confined to major shipping routes which can vary with season as the other upper-ocean observing networks are. Instead, the global array of 3,000 floats will be distributed roughly every 3 degrees (300km). Argo is the sole source of global subsurface datasets used in all ocean data assimilation models and reanalyses.

Here is a map of the current position of the floats:


I would call that very good coverage. The floats are clever - they are neutrally buoyant with a small motor and a piston to pump in/out seawater. When they pump in seawater, the float sinks. When it hits 2,000 meters, the motor reverses and the float starts to ascend. As it does, it measures temperature, salinity and pressure (depth). When it bobs to the surface, it acquires a satellite, gets its position, uploads the data and acquires any programming changes. It then waits on the surface until it is time for its next dive. The program started in 2000 so we have 18 years of very solid data that is freely available to the public or any researcher.

The dodgy paper in question is here: Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition and Resplandy et. al. should be ashamed of themselves. Very bad science.

From the Acoustical Society of America posting at Phys Org:

How beatboxers produce sound: Using real-time MRI to understand
Beatboxing is a musical art form in which performers use their vocal tract to create percussive sounds. Sometimes individual beatboxers perform as a part of an ensemble, using their vocal tracts to provide beats for other musicians; other times, beatboxers perform alone, where they might sing and beatbox simultaneously or simply make sounds without singing.

A team of researchers is using real-time MRI to study the production of beatboxing sounds. Timothy Greer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, will describe their work showing how real-time MRI can characterize different beatboxing styles and how video signal processing can demystify the mechanics of artistic style. Greer will present the study at the Acoustical Society of America's 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association's 2018 Acoustics Week in Canada, Nov. 5-9 at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada.

The team is interested in using real-time MRI data to observe the vocal tracts of beatboxers just before they make a sound to see if those movements are different from speech. The real-time MRI data provides a dynamic view of the entire midsagittal vocal tract and at a frame rate high enough to observe the movement and coordination of critical articulators.

There is a short video at the site - fun stuff.

The meeting sounded (arrrrgghhh...) really interesting - if it had been in Vancouver I would have seriously thought about driving up and crashing it. Here is its website: Acoustics Week in Canada 2018

Look up - chance of aurora tomorrow

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From NASA's Spaceweather site:

CHANCE OF GEOMAGNETIC STORMS: A large hole in the sun's atmosphere is facing Earth, sending a stream ofsolar wind toward our planet. Estimated time of arrival: Nov. 10th. NOAA forecasters say there is a 55% to 60% chance of minor G1-class geomagnetic storms when the stream arrives. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras tomorrow night.

Nothing much going on with the Planetary K-Index but stay tuned. Weather is supposed to clear up for a bit tomorrow so we might have good seeing.

Curious - small earthquakes

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A flurry of small (2.9 to 4.9) earthquakes along the subduction zone spread out over a thousand miles:


Probably just coincidental but...

President Trump on Climate Change

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Great little excerpt of Trump on 60 Minutes:

Speaking truth to power...

A bad week for space telescopes

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First Hubble and now Chandra - from the Chandra homepage:

Chandra Enters Safe Mode; Investigation Underway
At approximately 1355 GMT on October 10, 2018, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory entered Safe Mode, where the telescope’s instruments are put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun. Analysis of available data indicates the transition to safe mode was nominal, i.e., consistent with normal behavior for such an event. All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe. The cause of the Safe Mode transition is currently under investigation, and we will post more information when it becomes available.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years. It is now well into its extended mission and it is expected to continue carrying out forefront science for many years to come.

Ninteen years is not a bad run as things go but still, it is a shame to lose such an excellent machine.

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