Space

Extreme Exoplanet Volcanism Possibly Detected On 55 Cancri E 37

Posted by Soulskill
from the fun-place-to-visit-but-i-wouldn't-want-to-live-there dept.
astroengine writes: Using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have revealed wild atmospheric changes on a well studied exoplanet — changes that they suspect are driven by extreme volcanic activity. Over a period of two years, the team, led by University of Cambridge researchers, noted a three-fold change in temperature on the surface of 55 Cancri e. The super-Earth planet orbits a sun-like star 40 light-years away in the constellation of Cancer. It is twice the size of Earth and 8-times our planet's mass. 55 Cancri e is well-known to exoplanet hunters as the "diamond planet" — a world thought to be carbon-rich, possibly covered in hydrocarbons. But this new finding, published in the arXiv pre-print service, has added a new dimension to the planet's weird nature. "This is the first time we've seen such drastic changes in light emitted from an exoplanet, which is particularly remarkable for a super-Earth," said co-author Nikku Madhusudhan, of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, in a press release. "No signature of thermal emissions or surface activity has ever been detected for any other super-Earth to date."
Earth

Recent Paper Shows Fracking Chemicals In Drinking Water, Industry Attacks It 278

Posted by timothy
from the they-never-factor-in-the-tastiness dept.
eldavojohn writes: A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences turned up 2-Butoxyethanol from samples collected from three households in Pennsylvania. The paper's level headed conclusion is that more conservative well construction techniques should be used to avoid this in the future and that flowback should be better controlled. Rob Jackson, another scientist who reviewed the paper, stressed that the findings were an exception to normal operations. Despite that, the results angered the PR gods of the Marcellus Shale Gas industry and awoke beltway insider mouthpieces to attack the research — after all, what are they paying them for?
Lord of the Rings

Why Scientists Love 'Lord of the Rings' 176

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-the-very-wise-cannot-see-all-the-ends dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Julie Beck writes in The Atlantic that though science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, a Venn diagram of "scientists" and "Lord of the Rings fans" have a large overlap which could (lovingly!) be labeled "nerds." Several animal species have been named after characters from the books, including wasps, crocodiles, and even a dinosaur named after Sauron, "Given Tolkien's passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names—not to mention scientists' fondness for Tolkien—it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author," writes Henry Gee. Other disciplines aren't left out of the fun—there's a geologically interesting region in Australia called the "Mordor Alkaline Igneous Complex," a pair of asteroids named "Tolkien" and "Bilbo," and a crater on Mercury also named "Tolkien."

"It has been documented that Middle-Earth caught the attention of students and practitioners of science from the early days of Tolkien fandom. For example, in the 1960s, the Tolkien Society members were said to mainly consist of 'students, teachers, scientists, or psychologists,'" writes Kristine Larsen, an astronomy professor at Central Connecticut State University, in her paper "SAURON, Mount Doom, and Elvish Moths: The Influence of Tolkien on Modern Science." "When you have scientists who are fans of pop culture, they're going to see the science in it," says Larson. "It's just such an intricate universe. It's so geeky. You can delve into it. There's the languages of it, the geography of it, and the lineages. It's very detail oriented, and scientists in general like things that have depth and detail." Larson has also written papers on using Tolkien as a teaching tool, and discusses with her astronomy students, for example, the likelihood that the heavenly body Borgil, which appears in the first book of the trilogy, can be identified as the star Aldebaran. "I use this as a hook to get students interested in science," says Larson. "I'm also interested in recovering all the science that Tolkien quietly wove into Middle Earth because there's science in there that the casual reader has not recognized."
Earth

Empty Landscape Looms, If Large Herbivores Continue to Die Out 146

Posted by timothy
from the slimming-diet dept.
From the BBC comes this depressing excerpt: Populations of some of the world's largest wild animals are dwindling, raising the threat of an "empty landscape", say scientists. About 60% of giant herbivores - plant-eaters - including rhinos, elephants and gorillas, are at risk of extinction, according to research. Analysis of 74 herbivore species, published in Science Advances, blamed poaching and habitat loss. A previous study of large carnivores showed similar declines. Prof William Ripple, of Oregon State University, led the research looking at herbivores weighing over 100kg, from the reindeer up to the African elephant. "This is the first time anyone has analysed all of these species as a whole," he said. "The process of declining animals is causing an empty landscape in the forest, savannah, grasslands and desert." Here's the study, published in Science Advances, on which the BBC article is based.
Space

NASA Gets Its Marching Orders: Look Up! Look Out! 179

Posted by timothy
from the well-those-might-be-more-like-suggestions dept.
TheRealHocusLocus writes: HR 2039: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017 (press release, full text, and as a pretty RGB bitmap) is in the House. In $18B of goodies we see things that actually resemble a space program. The ~20,000 word document is even a good read, especially the parts about decadal cadence. There is more focus on launch systems and manned exploration, also to "expand the Administration's Near-Earth Object Program to include the detection, tracking, cataloguing, and characterization of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects less than 140 meters in diameter." I find it awesome that the fate of the dinosaurs is explicitly mentioned in this bill. If it passes we will have a law with dinosaurs in it. Someone read the T-shirt. There is also a very specific six month review of NASA's "Earth science global datasets for the purpose of identifying those datasets that are useful for understanding regional changes and variability, and for informing applied science research." Could this be an emerging Earth Sciences turf war between NOAA and NASA? Lately it seems more of a National Atmospheric Space Administration. Mission creep, much?
Communications

The Pioneer Who Invented the Weather Forecast 33

Posted by timothy
from the kept-it-hidden-in-his-conestoga dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Peter Moore has a fascinating article on BBC about how Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the man who invented the weather forecast in the 1860s faced skepticism and even mockery in his time but whose vision of a public forecasting service, funded by government for the benefit of all, is fundamental to our way of life. Chiefly remembered today as Charles Darwin's taciturn captain on HMS Beagle, during the famous circumnavigation in the 1830s, in his lifetime FitzRoy found celebrity from his pioneering daily weather predictions, which he called by a new name of his own invention — "forecasts". There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 1854 when FitzRoy established what would later be called the Met Office. With no forecasts, fishermen, farmers and others who worked in the open had to rely on weather wisdom — the appearance of clouds or the behavior of animals — to tell them what was coming as the belief persisted among many that weather was completely chaotic. But FitzRoy was troubled by the massive loss of life at sea around the coasts of Victorian Britain where from 1855 to 1860, 7,402 ships were wrecked off the coasts with a total of 7,201 lost lives. With the telegraph network expanding quickly, FitzRoy was able to start gathering real-time weather data from the coasts at his London office. If he thought a storm was imminent, he could telegraph a port where a drum was raised in the harbor. It was, he said, "a race to warn the outpost before the gale reaches them".

For FitzRoy the forecasts were a by-product of his storm warnings. As he was analyzing atmospheric data anyway, he reasoned that he might as well forward his conclusions — fine, fair, rainy or stormy — on to the newspapers for publication. "Prophecies and predictions they are not," he wrote, "the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of scientific combination and calculation." The forecasts soon became a quirk of this brave new Victorian society. FitzRoy's forecasts had a particular appeal for the horseracing classes who used the predictions to help them pick their outfits or lay their bets.

But FitzRoy soon faced serious difficulties. Some politicians complained about the cost of the telegraphing back and forth. The response to FitzRoy's work was the beginning of an attitude that we reserve for our weather forecasters today. The papers enjoyed nothing more than conflating the role of the forecaster with that of God and the scientific community were skeptical of his methods. While the majority of fishermen were supportive, others begrudged a day's lost catch to a mistaken signal. FitzRoy retired from his west London home to Norwood, south of the capital, for a period of rest but he struggled to recover and on 30 April 1865 FitzRoy cut his throat at his residence, Lyndhurst-house, Norwood, on Sunday morning. "In time, the revolutionary nature of FitzRoy's work would be recognised," says Moore. "FitzRoy's vision of a weather-prediction service funded by government for the benefit of its citizens would not die. In 1871, the United States would start issuing its own weather "probabilities", and by the end of the decade what was now being called the Met Office would resume its own forecasts in Britain."
Earth

Seafloor Sensors Record Possible Eruption of Underwater Volcano 19

Posted by timothy
from the good-time-to-be-shoreside dept.
vinces99 writes: Thanks to high-tech instruments installed last summer by the University of Washington to bring the deep sea online, what appears to be an eruption of Axial Volcano on April 23 was observed in real time by scientists on shore. "It was an astonishing experience to see the changes taking place 300 miles away with no one anywhere nearby, and the data flowed back to land at the speed of light through the fiber-optic cable ... in milliseconds," said John Delaney, a UW professor of oceanography who led the installation of the instruments as part of a larger effort sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Delaney organized a workshop on campus in mid-April at which marine scientists discussed how this high-tech observatory would support their science. Then, just before midnight on April 23 until about noon the next day, the seismic activity went off the charts. The gradually increasing rumblings of the mountain were documented over recent weeks by William Wilcock, a UW marine geophysicist who studies such systems. During last week's event, the earthquakes increased from hundreds per day to thousands, and the center of the volcanic crater dropped by about 6 feet in 12 hours. "The only way that could have happened was to have the magma move from beneath the caldera to some other location," Delaney said.
NASA

Messenger's Mercury Trip Ends With a Bang, and Silence 108

Posted by timothy
from the hell-of-a-way-to-go dept.
mpicpp writes with an expected followup: Nasa's Messenger mission to Mercury has reached its explosive conclusion, after 10 years in space and four in orbit. Now fully out of fuel, the spacecraft smashed into a region near Mercury's north pole, out of sight from Earth, at about 20:00 GMT on Thursday. Mission scientists confirmed the impact minutes later, when the craft's next possible communication pass was silent. Messenger reached Mercury in 2011 and far exceeded its primary mission plan of one year in orbit. That mission ended with an inevitable collision: Messenger slammed into our Solar System's hottest planet at 8,750mph (14,000km/h) — 12 times quicker than the speed of sound. The impact will have completely obliterated this history-making craft. And it only happened because Mercury has no thick atmosphere to burn up incoming objects — the same reason its surface is so pock-marked by impact craters. According to calculations, the 513kg, three-metre craft will have blasted a brand new crater the size of a tennis court. But that lasting monument is far too small to be visible from Earth.
Earth

Ancient Megadrought Entombed Dodos In Poisonous Fecal Cocktail 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the now-that's-a-way-to-go dept.
sciencehabit writes: Nine hundred kilometers off the east coast of Madagascar lies the tiny island paradise of Mauritius. The waters are pristine, the beaches bright white, and the average temperature hovers between 22C and 28C (72F to 82F) year-round. But conditions there may not have always been so idyllic. A new study suggests that about 4000 years ago, a prolonged drought on the island left many of the native species, such as dodo birds and giant tortoises, dead in a soup of poisonous algae and their own feces.
Earth

Pope Attacked By Climate Change Skeptics 700

Posted by Soulskill
from the infallible-except-when-he-disagrees-with-them dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The Telegraph reports that as the Vatican forges an alliance with the UN to tackle climate change, skeptics accuse Pope Francis of being deeply ill-informed about global warming. The Pope discussed climate change with Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, who then opened a one-day Vatican conference called "The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development". Organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, SDSN and Religions for Peace, the goal of the conference is to help strengthen the global consensus on the importance of climate change in the context of sustainable development.

But a group of British and American skeptics say the Pope is being fed "mistaken" advice from the UN and that he should stick to speaking out on matters of morality and theology rather than getting involved in the climate change debate. "The Pope has great moral authority but he's not an authority on climate science. He's a learned man but the IPCC has got it wrong," says Jim Lakely of the Heartland Institute, a conservative American pressure group partly funded by billionaire industrialists who question climate change. "The Pope would make a grave mistake if he put his moral authority behind scientists saying that climate change is a threat to the world. Many scientists have concluded that human activity is a minor player. The Earth has been warming since the end of the last Ice Age."

It was the first time the Heartland Institute, which is based in Chicago and has been described by the New York Times as "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism," has traveled to Rome to try to influence a pope. "The sideshow envisioned by these organizations will not detract from the deep concern that Pope Francis has for the truth and how it relates to the environment," says Dr. Bernard Brady, Professor and Chair of the Theology Department at the University of St. Thomas. "Pope Francis will probably follow his predecessor, Benedict XVI, recognizing the interrelatedness of climate change with other moral issues and calling for persons, organizations, communities, nations, and indeed the global community, to reconsider established patterns of behavior."
Earth

Signs of Subsurface 'Alien' Life Found In Antarctica 106

Posted by timothy
from the welcome-friends dept.
astroengine writes: An airborne survey of a presumably dry Antarctic valley revealed a stunning and unexpected interconnected subsurface briny aquifer deep beneath the frozen tundra, a finding that not only has implications for understanding extreme habitats for life on Earth, but the potential for life elsewhere in the solar system, particularly Mars. The briny liquid — about twice as salty as seawater — was discovered about 200 miles underground in a region known as Taylor Valley. The aquifer is widespread, extending from the Ross Sea's McMurdo Sound more than 11 miles into the eastern part of valley. A second system was found connecting Taylor Glacier with the ice-cover Lake Bonney. But the survey, which covered 114 square miles, may have just uncovered the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Earth

A Cheap, Ubiquitous Earthquake Warning System 101

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-you-check-your-cellphone-immediately dept.
Tekla Perry writes: Earthquake alert systems that give a 10 or 20 second warning of an impending temblor, enabling automatic systems to shut down and people to take cover, are hugely expensive to build and operate. (One estimate is $38.3 milllion for equipment to span California, and another $16.1 million annually to operate.) But a Palo Alto entrepreneur thinks he's got a way to sense earthquakes and provide alerts far more cheaply and with much greater resolution. And he's got money from the National Science Foundation to begin the first test of his system — covering the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to Napa and the cities of Hollister, Coalinga, and Parkfield. He starts that test next month.
Google

Google Executive Dan Fredinburg Among Victims of Everest Avalanche 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the rest-in-peace dept.
alphadogg writes: Dan Fredinburg, privacy director for the company's Google X team, and an engineer who worked on many of Google's most exciting projects during his 8 years with the company, died over the weekend in an avalanche on Mount Everest. The 33-year-old worked on projects such as Google Loon, the company's balloon-based Internet access effort and self-driving car. He also was involved in Google Street View Everest, leading expeditions to gather imagery of the Khumbu region around Mt. Everest. Fredinburg's career began in a much less glamorous fashion as a "dock rat" and as a farm hand in Arkansas.
Earth

Seeing Buildings Shake With Software 21

Posted by samzenpus
from the whole-lot-of-shaking-going-on dept.
mikejuk writes: In 2012 a team from MIT CSAIL discovered that you could get motion magnification by applying filtering algorithms to the color changes of individual pixels. The method didn't track movement directly, but instead used the color changes that result from the movement. Now another MIT team has attempted to put the technique to use in monitoring structures — to directly see the vibrations in buildings, bridges and other constructions. Currently such monitoring involves instrumenting the building with accelerometers. This is expensive and doesn't generally give a complete "picture" of what is happening to the building. It would be much simpler to point a video camera at the building and use motion magnification software to really see the vibrations and this is exactly what the team is trying out. Yes you can see the building move — in real time — and it seems to be a good match to what traditional monitoring methods say is happening. The next stage is to use the method to monitor MIT's Green Building, the Zakim Bridge and the John Hancock Tower in Boston.
Earth

Giant Survival Ball Will Help Explorer Survive a Year On an Iceberg 128

Posted by Soulskill
from the rolling-the-seven-seas dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Ben Yeager reports in Outside Magazine that Italian explorer Alex Bellini plans to travel to Greenland's west coast, pick an iceberg, and live on it for a year as it melts out in the Atlantic. It's a precarious idea. Bellini will be completely isolated, and his adopted dwelling is liable to roll or fall apart at any moment, thrusting him into the icy sea or crushing him under hundreds of tons of ice. His solution: an indestructible survival capsule built by an aeronautics company that specializes in tsunami-proof escape pods. "I knew since the beginning I needed to minimize the risk. An iceberg can flip over, and those events can be catastrophic." Bellini plans to use a lightweight, indestructible floating capsules, or "personal safety systems" made from aircraft-grade aluminum in what's called a continuous monocoque structure, an interlocking frame of aluminum spars that evenly distribute force, underneath a brightly painted and highly visible aluminum shell. The inner frame can be stationary or mounted on roller balls so it rotates, allowing the passengers to remain upright at all times.

Aeronautical engineer Julian Sharpe, founder of Survival Capsule, got the idea for his capsules after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. He believes fewer people would have died had some sort of escape pod existed. Sharpe hopes the products will be universal—in schools, retirement homes, and private residences, anywhere there is severe weather. The product appeals to Bellini because it's strong enough to survive a storm at sea or getting crushed between two icebergs. Bellini will spend almost all of his time in the capsule with the hatch closed, which will pose major challenges because he'll have to stay active without venturing out onto a slippery, unstable iceberg. If it flips, he'll have no time to react. "Any step away from [the iceberg] will be in unknown territory," says Bellini. "You want to stretch your body. But then you risk your life."
Earth

7.8 Earthquake Rocks Nepal, Hundreds Dead 114

Posted by Soulskill
from the rest-in-peace dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Nepal was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 today, with an epicenter 80 km east of the country's second biggest city, Pokhara. Its effects were also strongly felt in the capital, Kathmandu. Casualty reports conflict, but authorities have indicated at least 500 are dead and many more are feared to be trapped. Nepal has declared a state of emergency for the affected areas, and asked for international humanitarian assistance. India and Pakistan have both offered help. Some Indian cities were affected by the earthquake as well, and there are reports of avalanches on Mt. Everest, which has many climbers at any given time.
Earth

Bees Prefer Nectar Laced With Neonicotinoids 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-know-those-things'll-kill-ya dept.
Taco Cowboy writes: Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. Neonicotinoids kill insects by overwhelming and short-circuiting their central nervous systems (PDF). Shell and Bayer started the development of neonicotinoids back in the 1980s and 1990s. Since this new group of pesticides came to market, the bee population has been devastated in regions where they have been widely used. Studies from 2012 linked neonicotinoid use to crashing bee populations.

New studies, however, have discovered that bees prefer nectar laced with neonicotinoids over nectar free of any trace of neonicotinoids. According to researchers at Newcastle University, the bees may "get a buzz" from the nicotine-like chemicals in the same way smokers crave cigarettes.
Space

Hubble Turns 25 45

Posted by Soulskill
from the thanks-for-all-the-desktop-wallpapers dept.
Taco Cowboy points out that the Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 today. Hubble was launched on April 24, 1990, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Currently, it is flying about 340 miles over the Earth and circling us every 97 minutes. While the telescope itself is not really much to look at, that silver bucket is pure gold for astronomers. Scientists have used that vantage point to make ground-breaking observations about planets, stars, galaxies and to reveal parts of our universe we didn't know existed. The telescope has made more than a million observations and astronomers have used Hubble data in more than 12,700 scientific papers, "making it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built," according to NASA. ... NASA aims to keep Hubble operating through at least 2020 so that it can overlap with its successor. The James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch in October 2018 and begin observations in mid-2019. NASA celebrated by releasing a new, epic image from Hubble titled "Celestial Fireworks." It is accompanied by an impressive flythrough video. Some nice galleries of Hubble images have been put together at the NY Times and Slate, but a bigger collection is available directly from the official Hubble website.
Space

Cosmic Rays Could Reveal Secrets of Lightning On Earth 49

Posted by samzenpus
from the shocking-discovery dept.
sciencehabit writes: Despite Benjamin Franklin's best efforts with a kite and a key, the phenomenon of lightning remains a scientific enigma. Now, researchers have developed a new tool that could help them solve some of lightning's mysteries. By using cosmic rays, space-traveling particles that constantly rain down on our atmosphere, scientists report they can peek inside thunderstorms and measure their electric fields, helping them pinpoint the conditions that cause storms' electrical outbursts. The advance could help researchers predict more precisely when and where lightning is most likely to strike and get people out of harm's way in time.