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  • richardmitnick 4:57 pm on May 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE, The Case for Abandoning Miami   

    From INVERSE: “The Case for Abandoning Miami and the Rich Fools Building Mansions on the Beach” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 31, 2016
    Jacqueline Ronson

    1
    Map of Miami, FL, USA

    Thousands of miles of U.S. coast are threatened by erosion, storms, and rising seas. Left alone, the barrier islands that protect coastal plains from New York to Mexico would do just fine adapting to climate change. Storms would eat away at the front edge of the islands, but throw sand over the backside, resulting in more elevated bulwarks closer to the shore. The problem is that humans love beaches and pay extravagant prices to live on these natural barriers. The rich are harder to move than sand.

    Valuable properties with powerful owners control vast sections of coast so governments, in their thrall, build enormously expensive seawalls that inevitably speed the erosions of beaches, which are replaced artificially at mounting cost. It’s the vicious cycle of sunbathing, and Orrin Pilkey says it’s a loser’s game. Miami is doomed.

    Pilkey, a retired Duke University professor, has been telling people to back the hell away from the ocean since the 1970s. His latest treatise, Retreat From a Rising Sea, co-written with his son and daughter, argues that a migration away from the world’s coast is inevitable, and that the sooner policies encourage people and infrastructure in that direction, the less painful the move will be. Pilkey told Inverse about what needs to be done, and why there’s no hope for Florida.

    Why is it a futile effort to protect coastal homes and development?

    How much would it cost to build 3,000 miles of seawall along the East Coast of the U.S., not to mention the rest of the world? On a barrier island, you have to build seawalls on all sides of the island. Where are we going to get the money for that? Then the problem becomes that seawalls destroy beaches. We saw this back in the early ‘70s in Miami Beach, where basically there was no beach left, before they nourished it.

    2
    A rising tide creeps up on homes in Nags Head, North Carolina.

    Nourishment is very costly. We just recently nourished a beach north of Rodanthe, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks, for two miles, and it cost $10 million for each mile. And the beach lasted, really, about a year. I mean that’s an extraordinarily bad case, but these are multi-million dollar projects without exception, and in Florida they might last seven years, in North Carolina three years, New Jersey two or three years. And then, when sea level rises, this cost is going to increase and the lifespan will decrease.

    How big is this problem globally?

    There are 10,000 Inupiat Eskimos in Siberia, Alaska, and Northern Canada that are, because of a combination of sea level rise and melting permafrost, need to be moved. And we’re starting to look at moving them. Then there are the atoll nations of the Indian and Pacific Oceans — there, there’s about a million inhabitants, and a number of them are already moving.

    The biggest problem of all is on the world’s deltas. The Ganges delta is the most famous problem. There are several million people on this delta that need to be moving, not only directly because of the rising sea level, but because as the sea level rises, the frequency of storms and the effect of storms increase — the storms extend further inland. On deltas, the problem is that they are all very low-lying. And they are usually sinking. So besides the Ganges delta, there’s also the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, where 100-and-some-thousand people died in that last hurricane.

    3
    India hopes this fence will keep expected climate refugees out of the country.

    There’s the Mississippi delta, where we’re planning to move one small village. Overall, we have hundreds of millions of people in deltas that will have to be moved. In India, they’ve already built what they call the Great Wall of India, the massive double barbed wire fence with concertina wire and all that stuff, to try to keep out the Bangladesh people who will be fleeing sea level rise.

    You’ve been advocating for a retreat for long time. Is anyone listening?

    For the most part it’s falling on deaf ears. Not only on the part of the individuals buying property, but on the part of the politicians. We even have politicians in the state of Florida, for heaven’s sake, that are denying sea level rise. One of the things that’s said by a lot of politicians is, ‘Well I’m not a scientist so I can’t really evaluate this.’ It’s so irresponsible on the shoreline issue, because so many people are going to be hurt because of sea level rise.

    After Hurricane Sandy, there were some little bits of good stuff going on. Like the purchase of houses that were threatened, and would be threatened in the next hurricane again, on Staten Island, New York, where they paid the price that the house would have been worth before the storm. There are a few places where they have decided not to allow development in New York. There’s little bits and pieces like this, just about everywhere there’s little pieces, except for North Carolina, perhaps, where we’re really dragging behind, and of course Florida, which has the biggest problem, and does the fewest things about it.

    How did it get so bad in Florida?

    You have hundreds of miles of high-rise lined shoreline. What are you going to do about this? You can’t move the buildings — there’s no place to move them to, and the cost of moving 20-storey buildings makes it highly unlikely that they’ll even be moved. So two things can happen. A hundred years from now we’ll have these islands lined by very, very high seawalls on all sides, or they’ll be offshore fishing reefs of some kind. There’s just no other long term future for much of the high-rise lined shoreline in Florida.

    4
    Seawalls won’t protect Miami high-rises forever.

    Miami is sitting on top of the Miami limestone, and it’s a 50-75 foot thick, highly porous limestone. It is so porous that there are little ponds within Miami where you can actually measure tides. There are little one-centimeter or less rises in these ponds that correspond to the tides offshore. So, the point is, you can build seawalls, you can build levees, you can build dikes, and it won’t have any impact whatsoever. The city is flooding.

    I believe that we are going to respond to a catastrophe and not in a planned fashion, I’m at a loss as to what they’re going to do in a big storm. Many of the high rises will survive, but access to them will be gone, and of course if you built seawalls, there will be no beach. We have two choices, and I figure we’re going to pick the worse choice.

    If I was king of Miami, I would immediately stop some of the multi-billion dollar developments that are going on. Or at least I would tell people: ‘Go ahead and build, but let’s face it, it’s not going to work. Your streets are going to be flooded on a frequent basis in a few decades.’

    Why is it so hard to get people to be proactive on this?

    The problem is fundamentally we have very wealthy and very important and very powerful people living along the shoreline. In North and South Carolina, the wealthy islands are controlling coastal management in the state. There are wealthy people on all the islands, but the super wealthy ones are the ones that have the money to influence the politicians and so forth. That’s so hard to overcome. The politicians in the coastal zone are beholden to these wealthy people.

    We’re starting to pay some attention, not in any big way — and cities like Miami, which are doomed, are completely ignoring the problem. It is amazing to me that big time development continues in the city of Miami, when it’s all going to go away.

    Are you hopeful that people are going to start the retreat before things get really bad?

    I’m not hopeful. We have two choices — we could move back now, and respond now in a planned fashion, in the context of what we know is going to happen, or what we suspect is going to happen. Or we can respond in response to catastrophes — that is, big storms. And that’s what I think will happen.

    That will be really apparent in the Carolinas especially. A lot of damage will occur if another 1962 Ash Wednesday storm occurs. It will be hell. I’m hoping that one crisis will do it — one really bad storm.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on May 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE, Recent Kepler release of planets   

    From INVERSE: “Identify 1,284 New Exoplanets in One Fell Swoop” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 12, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    Before Tuesday, there were no shortage of theories about what NASA’s discovery announcement would entail. (Full disclosure: I was responsible for much of that speculation.) Then Tuesday hit and we found out exactly what the big news was: NASA scientists just confirmed the identify of 1,284 new exoplanets in the universe — including nine planets that have the potential to be habitable to life.

    It’s an announcement that has already inspired scientists and ordinary individuals around the world to ponder whether we might seriously find extraterrestrial life soon enough. But the new study raises an interesting question: what changed between the last few years and now that allowed scientists to identify so many new exoplanets all at once? Did all of these planets just show up at once? Did we develop better technology? Did the Kepler Space Telescope miraculously get better (after weirdly almost breaking down)? What gives?

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The answer: It all comes down to a new method of validating exoplanet candidates that provides ”astrophysical false positive probability calculations” for such objects, according to a new paper* published in the latest issue of The Astrophysical Journal. Basically, the new method ascribes a number to every object found by Kepler that determines the likelihood that object is an exoplanet, and not an “imposter.” Call it a planet score. The higher the number, the more likely it’s a planet.

    The new method only allows an object to move from the “candidate” category to “exoplanet” if Kepler researchers can say so with 99 percent reliability or higher.

    1
    This is an artist’s conception of Kepler-20e, the first planet smaller than the Earth discovered to orbit a star other than the sun. A year on Kepler-20e only lasts six days, as it is much closer to its host star than the Earth is to the sun.

    We should slow down at this point and expound on exactly how astronomers find and evaluate potential exoplanets. Basically, through Kepler and a few other instruments**, scientists stare at distant stars and measure the brightness of light emitting from those balls of fiery energy. When a star has a planet in orbit, its brightness will dim as that planet transits past it in relation to the telescope we’re using to watch it (a recent, albeit small, example is Mercury passing in front of the sun). As long as that dimming isn’t just a technical error, it’s a sign that something is passing through the neighborhood. A consistent dimming occurring regularly over time is further evidence it might be a planet.

    In the past, scientists had to pore over the brightness numbers along with assessing a variety of different data that might be attainable, like radio velocity observation or high-resolution imaging. Unfortunately, doing that kind of work is extremely time consuming, and we don’t always have the resources to find what we need.

    So in this day-and-age, we turn to computers for help. Timothy Morton, a Princeton researcher who studies exoplanets, developed a new method for exoplanet validation that combines previous exoplanet observations and the current brightness measurements scientists are gathering with Kepler.

    There are two kinds of simulations. The first looks at how the dimming compares to that from known exoplanets and imposter objects. The second goes a step further and deduces whether dimming is indicative of exoplanet behavior given what we already about how exoplanets are distributed and laid around the Milky Way.

    The two simulations are used to determine the statistical likelihood the object in question is an exoplanet. It’s a faster way of doing this work — and by all accounts, it’s even more accurate. In fact, the method is actually being used to verify previously confirmed exoplanets and determine whether they might actually be false-positives.

    This is crucial for the direction of future exoplanet research. The work accomplished since Kepler’s launch in 2009 has been huge in illustrating just how many other worlds exist in the universe — and it has given humans a staggering amount of hope we may find another habitable planet, or even alien life.

    NASA is already getting ready to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in late 2017, and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

    NASA/TESS
    NASA/TESS

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Both will play a pivotal role in exoplanet investigations by acquiring lots more data that we’ve ever dealt with. Morton’s model will help our scientists on the ground sift through that data and identify potentially habitable exoplanets faster than we could have hoped.

    Photos via NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech, NASA/JPL-Caltech

    *SCience paper:
    FALSE POSITIVE PROBABILITIES FOR ALL KEPLER OBJECTS OF INTEREST: 1284 NEWLY VALIDATED PLANETS AND 428 LIKELY FALSE POSITIVES

    **The only other telescope that is specifically referenced, NASA/Spitzer, is referenced in the Science paper.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:21 am on May 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , INVERSE, ,   

    From INVERSE: “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Puts Astronomers at Odds, Not in Conflict” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 3, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    Researchers can’t agree on when we’ll find alien life or how we’ll find it. But they are talking it out.

    Seth Shostak, director for the Center of SETI Research at the SETI Institute, once told an audience he was speaking to that he bet humans would find signs of extraterrestrial life within two-dozen years. At a panel entitled “When Will We Find Life Beyond Earth? hosted by the SETI Institute today, he doubled-down on that bet. Based on what exoplanet researchers have been discovering these days, he explained, “current wisdom is that one in five stars may be a locale for life.” The reasonable conclusions based on reasonable extrapolation? We’re going to find life soon.

    But reason sometimes splinters. What was most remarkable out the panel — other than that it was attended by a murderer’s row of astronomical minds — was how much well reasoned disagreement there was. Even the éminence grises of the SETI community, people who have worked together and seem to respect each other, agree on shockingly little. . The event, however, underscored a truth about extraterrestrial, exoplanet, and astrobiology research that isn’t always expressed well to the public: Scientists in the field agree on fact, but not their significance.


    Access mp4 video here . 1 hour 13 minutes

    Shostak, in case you haven’t already discerned, is avowedly optimistic about the finding extraterrestrials — especially intelligent extraterrestrials. His life’s work is dedicated to listening in for radio signals originating from an intelligent source, and he’s very encouraged by the direction the research is going.

    He analogizes SETI research to looking for a needle in a haystack a daunting task, yes, but only if you dont know what you’re. In his mind, there are three major questions: how big is the haystack, how fast we’re able to look through the haystack, and how many needles there are in the damn thing. Shostak thinks we already have answers to the first two — we know relatively how big the universe is and how many stars there are, and we’re able to scan outer space like never before.

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey
    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    Our speed at conducting SETI experiments doubles every five years — “and they keep getting faster. We will go through a mission star systems,” within the next two-dozen years, so hes holding tight to his bet.

    So the only question is, how many needles are there anyway — i.e. how many alien civilizations are out there?

    That’s a question better suited for the the other three panelists. Up next: Fergal Mullally, a scientist working with the Kepler Space Telescope at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Given his role, Mullally is primarily interested in exoplanets. He thinks the data from Kepler has created two major effects.

    The first: “In our galaxy, we now know there are more planets than stars out there,” he says.

    Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt
    Milky Way NASA/JPL-Caltech /ESO R. Hurt

    Whereas we previously thought of planets as a rare phenomenon, “we now know [planets] are very common.” And the data shows that an estimated two to 25 percent of those star systems are thought to have an Earth-like planet.

    That’s incredible, but lets remember that’s a huge range. Plus, the definition of “Earth-like” encompasses a lot. When scientists use that phrase, they aren’t talking about blue oceans, rolling green hills, and amber waves of grain. They might simply be talking about the bare-bone things that make Earth, well, Earth — liquid water, an atmosphere with some trace amounts of oxygen, a rocky surface, and temperatures that aren’t boiling or causing water to instantly freeze. It’s not a settled science, said Mullally.

    Meanwhile, you have Nathalie Cabrol, an astrobiologist and the director for the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, specializes in an understanding of what we might find in the solar system.

    Our Solar system, NASA/Chandra
    Our Solar system, NASA/Chandra

    And for her, the key potential demographic of alien life is microbes. “You do have to think of life as a continuum,” says Cabrol — and that means remembering that life starts out as primitive, single-celled organisms.

    Cabrol may be the most vocal enthusiast about astrobiological research on Mars than any other scientists. “This is the first place where we have started to look at habitability,” said Cabrol. “And were going to start to look for life [there] soon, actually.

    Last but not least, the panel feature Mark Showalter, the senior research scientists at the SETI Institute, in the role of skeptic. According to him, life on other planets might be extremely common, or extremely rare. “We don’t know” he said. He emphasizes that it took two billion years to go from single-celled bacterial to multi-cellular humans. And he questions the logic that intelligence is foreordained. When you take into account energy and metabolism, “big brains are not the natural end state of evolution, he said.

    Overall, Showalter thinks we need to take into account the mathematical biases that run contrary to the optimism espoused by the other three panelists. In a tongue-in-cheek compromise, he expressed his belief the odds of finding E.T. were 50-50.

    Nevertheless, the search for alien life will continue with unbridled excitement. And how could it not? We’re finding more and more exoplanets that look that might be habitable in some capacity.

    Habitable planets Current Potential Planetary Habitability Laboratory U Puerto Rico Arecibo
    Habitable planets Current Potential Planetary Habitability Laboratory U Puerto Rico Arecibo

    Even private citizens are gearing up to get in on the search, such as in the recent launch of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

    What’s perhaps most exciting, however, is that we don’t know what might stumble upon. The possibilities are nearly endless. “We are searching for something we don’t know,” Cabrol told the audience Tuesday. And, in a sense, that’s always been true.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:00 pm on May 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , INVERSE,   

    From INVERSE: “What Will Replace Moore’s Law as Technology Advances Beyond the Microchip?” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 5, 2016
    Adam Toobin

    The mathematics of Moore’s Law has long baffled observers, even as it underlies much of the technological revolution that has transformed the world over the past 50 years, but as chips get smaller, there’s now renewed speculation that it will be squeezed out.

    In the 1965, Intel cofounder Dr. Gordon Moore observed that the number of digital transistors on a single microchip doubled every two years. The trend has stuck ever since: computers the size of entire rooms now rest in the palm of your hand, at a fraction of the cost.

    But with the under-girding technology approaching the size of a single atom, many fear the heyday of the digital revolution is coming to a close, forcing technologists around the world to rethink their business strategies and their notions of computing altogether.

    We have faced the end of Moore’s Law before — in fact, Brian Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive, jokes he has seen the doomsday prediction made no less than four times in his life. But what makes the coming barrier different is that whether we have another five or even ten years of boosting the silicon semiconductors that constitute the core of modern computing, we are going to hit a physical wall sooner rather than later.

    BOINC WallPaper

    1
    Transistor counts for integrated circuits plotted against their dates of introduction. The curve shows Moore’s law – the doubling of transistor counts every two years. The y-axis is logarithmic, so the line corresponds to exponential growth.

    If Moore’s Law is to survive, it would require a radical innovation, rather than the predictable progress that has sustained chip makers over recent decades.

    And most technology companies in the world are beginning to acknowledge the changing forecast for digital hardware. Semiconductor industry associations of the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan will issue only one more report forecasting chip technology growth. Intel’s CEO casts these gloomy predictions as premature and refused to participate with the final report. Krzanich insists Intel has the technical capabilities to keep improving chips while keeping costs low for manufacturers, though few in the industry believe the faltering company will maintain its quixotic course for long.


    Access mp4 video here .

    The rest of the industry is casting forth to new opportunities. New technologies like graphene (an atomic-scale honeycomb-like web of carbon atoms) and quantum computing offer a unique way out of physical limitations imposed by silicon superconductors. Graphene has recently enthralled chipmakers with its affordable carbon base and configuration that makes it an ideal candidate for faster, though still largely conventional, digital processing.

    2
    The ideal crystalline structure of graphene is a hexagonal grid.

    “As you look at Intel saying the PC industry is slowing and seeing the first signs of slowing in mobile computing, people are starting to look for new places to put semiconductors,” said David Kanter, a semiconductor industry analyst at Real World Technologies in San Francisco, told The New York Times.

    Quantum computing, on the other hand, would tap the ambiguity inherent in the universe to change computing forever. The prospect has long intrigued tech companies, and the recent debut of some radical early stage designs have reignited the fervor of quantum’s advocates.

    3
    This image appeared in an IBM promotion that read: “IBM unlocks quantum computing capabilities, lifts limits of innovation.”

    For many years, the end of Moore’s Law was viewed as a kind of apocalypse scenario for the technology industry: What would we do when there was no more room on the chip? Much of what has been forecast about the future of the digital world has been preceded on the notion that we will continue to make the incredible improvements of the past half century.

    It’s perhaps a good sign that technology companies are soberly looking to the future and getting excited about new, promising developments that may yet yield entirely new frontiers.

    Photos via Wgsimon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, AlexanderAlUS (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons, IBM, Jamie Baxter

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:37 pm on May 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE   

    From INVERSE: “How Chile’s Unique TRAPPIST Telescope Found Habitable Planets 40 Light-Years Away” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    May 2, 2016
    Kastalia Medrano

    ESO/TRAPPIST Belgian robotic telescope
    ESO/TRAPPIST Belgian robotic telescope at La Silla

    TRAPPIST was supposed to be just a prototype, but turned out to be the little-telescope-that-could.

    Astronomers have just found our best chance of finding alien life to date in the form of a trio of potentially habitable planets only 40 light-years from Earth.

    2
    An artist rendition of one of the planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1

    The discovery comes thanks to a specially designed telescope in Chile called TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope). It’s a remarkable piece of equipment.

    TRAPPIST, a robot telescope used specifically for targeting ultra-cool dwarf stars, was installed in Chile in 2010 and has been active since 2011. Unlike bigger, brighter stars, ultra-cool dwarf stars require more specialized telescopes to study them. TRAPPIST is one such telescope, and the discovery of these three planets is the first time the study of ultra-cool dwarf stars has yielded results. The star was named TRAPPIST-1 in its honor.

    The discovery itself was almost an accident: TRAPPIST’s purpose was to serve as a prototype for the more ambitious project SPECULOOS (a Search for Planets Eclipsing Ultracool Stars), an upcoming endeavor to explore all visible ultracool dwarf stars which are bright and near enough to be worth studying. SPECULOOS will require bigger telescopes in better locations (cleaner light, better transparency of sky). But first, the methods had to be tested in Chile.

    “This was only a prototype project, with only 60 stars being tracked, just to see if it could be done,” Michael Gillon, a principal investigator on the TRAPPIST telescope and one of the co-authors of the Nature article announcing the planets’ discovery, tells Inverse by phone. “We didn’t really intend to detect any planet. But it was crucial to have this telescope installed in a slightly worse location to just demonstrate that we could detect planets with it, but we ended up doing this in the best possible way, by actually detecting planets. So now everyone is convinced.”

    SPECULOOS itself will involve a series of bigger telescopes than TRAPPIST, including one just installed in Morocco this week and, depending on how much funding comes through, one or two similar instruments in North America (likely Arizona or Mexico). Their missions will be the comprehensive exploration and survey of ultra-cool dwarfs in order to build the largest possible catalogue of Earth-like planets.

    SPECULOOS  four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory
    SPECULOOS four 1m-diameter robotic telescopes 2016 in the ESO Paranal Observatory

    As for TRAPPIST, now that it’s already wildly outperformed everyone’s expectations, it’ll transition from searching for potentially habitable planets to focusing on the class of exoplanets called “Hot Jupiters” — giant planets with very short orbits, meaning they’re close to their respective stars — as well as comets.

    “We want to study Hot Jupiters because they’re very stable to do detailed studies on,” Gillon says. “They tell us something about the way a planet forms and the evolution of the planetary system — these are formed very far from the star and then they get closer, and we have to understand why, to try to understand the nature of planetary systems not just by looking at our own solar system but looking on a galactic scale. And comets are the building blocks of planets — there are billions and billions of comets and asteroids that collided and formed bigger and bigger planets, so comets are remnants of this primordial phase and they can tell us a lot about the way that planets are formed.”

    SPECULOOS telescopes are being tested through the end of the year. The project should begin in January 2017. “We want to start detecting these planets just as soon as possible,” Gillon says.

    Photos via European Southern Observatory

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:54 am on April 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , INVERSE   

    From INVERSE: “What Killed the Dinosaurs?” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    April 22, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    Why does life on Earth take such a beating every 35 million years.

    Since life started on Earth, there have been five mass extinction events that have led to the obliteration of 99.9 percent of all the species that have ever lived. There are a lot of theories about the causes of those events, but the most compelling and —perhaps no coincidentally — widely accepted has long been that asteroids and other objects from space slammed into the planet, triggering a massive die-off. This is, most children are taught, how the dinosaurs died 65 million years ago.

    Scientists aren’t all satisfied by that explanation. Since asteroids tend to hit the planet in strange 35 million year cycles, a more massive object must be causing some sort of clockwork effect. Maybe it’s the mysterious elusive Planet X?

    Planet nine orbit image Credit Caltech R. Hurt (IPAC)
    Planet nine orbit image Credit Caltech R. Hurt (IPAC)

    Maybe a set of other strange-acting comets in unstable orbits? Or maybe it’s dark matter. Last year, astrophysicists Lisa Randall and Matthew Reece at Harvard University started pushing a credible if not popular theory that a dense cloud of dark matter sitting along the central plane of the Milky Way could be causing comets, asteroids, and other space objects to head our way on the regular.

    Dark matter cosmic web and the large-scale structure it forms The Millenium Simulation, V. Springel et al
    Dark matter cosmic web and the large-scale structure it forms The Millenium Simulation, V. Springel et al.

    Scientists think about 85 percent of the total matter in the universe is dark, which is pretty mind-boggling consider weve never detected the stuff. Still, there is reason to conclude that it exists because something has to account for the strange gravitational effects we witness in the movements and speeds of the Milky Way and other galaxies. Specifically, Randall and Reece believe a disk of dark matter stretching out a staggering 35 light-years thick is disturbing the trajectory of large asteroids and other objects and flinging them to the Earth. Their analysis of large impact craters on the surface of the planet — more than 12 miles wide, created in past 250 million years — indicates the likelihood these crashes were in some way influenced by the dark matter cycle is three times greater than the odds they are just random events.

    By itself, three-to-one odds aren’t statistically impressive. And, of course, while we kind of know dark matter is a thing, we don’t really know anything about dark matter. But the research itself is a sign that we are beginning to integrate more of what we know about astrophysical phenomena into the deep-time history of life (and death) on Earth. This is maybe the first time someone has linked the mystery of the dinosaurs extinction to the mystery of dark matter.

    One scientist, New York University geologist Michael R. Rampino, take this one step further and suggests that our own solar system actually moves through this cloud of dark matter periodically. Perhaps this movement doesn’t just knock asteroids into us, but it may heat up the planet and cause violent volcanic activity. For this to be true, a lot of other things have to happen. Among them, the dark matter disk has to be more dense than the galaxy’s highest concentration of stars. Also, the dark matter particles need to interact with Earth in such a way as to affect thermo-volcanic activity, but not completely melt the Earth’s core. It’s improbable but far from impossible.

    And that’s not even the weirdest theory that combines extinction and dark matter. Dayong Cao is a Beijing-based researcher who leads the Avoid Earth Extinction Association, an organization dedicated to highlighting and studying potential extraterrestrial threats to our planet (i.e. asteroids). He’s written several papers detailing his ideas on dark matter and asteroids.

    In short, Cao thinks asteroids moving through the dark matter clouds in the Milky Way are then infused with dark matter itself. These “dark asteroids or “dark comets” — which we can’t directly observe — slam into Earth, and bring dark matter to the planet itself. It’s only by studying the gravitational effects of these objects that we can predict if and when they will hit us. Caos theory kind of mashes the previously aforementioned ones into one, super-crazy annihilating idea.

    At this point, the only way to prove any of these theories is to find dark matter. There are detectors running all around the world, though the prevailing thought is that we need to prove dark matter indirectly by better studying its gravitational effect on other celestial objects. Whatever the methods, the day we can finally say weve discovered dark matter could be the day we kill two science birds with one dark-matter soaked stone.

    That is, if dark matter doesn’t manage to kill us off first.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:18 pm on April 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advanced Electric Propulsion System, , , INVERSE,   

    From INVERSE: “NASA Orders a New Solar-Powered Ion Engine to Explore Deep Space and Go to Mars” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    April 19, 2016
    Jack Crosbie

    We already know electric engines are the future of automobiles, and NASA thinks they’re the future of spaceflight as well. Today, NASA awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. to design a new Advanced Electric Propulsion System, mainly for use on robotic deep space ships like those used in its Asteroid Redirect Mission.

    Electric propulsion tech has been around for more than fifty years, and it’s already widely used on long distance deep space expeditions like the Dawn mission, which is surveying the giant asteroid Vesta (last seen 156 million miles from Earth) and the protoplanet Ceres between 2011 and 2015.

    Unlike electric engines in cars, electric propulsion systems still use a fuel-based propellant, they’re just way more efficient than traditional engines. An electric ion engine takes a fuel source (usually xenon or another argon gas) and ionizes it (takes off an electron), then shoots that ion out of the back of the spacecraft (and spraying out some electrons so the whole thing stays electrically neutral). It uses on-board solar panels to energize and ionize the fuel. They’re way more efficient than burning conventional fuel, which makes them perfect for long-range missions. They don’t, however, generate a tremendous amount of thrust, which means they can’t be used for taking off directly from a planet (sorry, Star Wars), but they can push big heavy stuff through space for a long, long time on not a lot of fuel.

    1
    You’re looking at the business end. NASA.

    NASA hopes that Aerojet’s new engine will increase fuel efficiency to more than 10 times the current rate of conventional chemical fuel (just burnin’ stuff and shooting it out the back, no funny ion business), and double the thrust capability compared to current electric systems (which means faster trips). The new engine’s meant for a pretty crazy purpose too — one of its first tests may be on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, where it will attempt to capture an asteroid, push it all the way to the moon, and put it in orbit. To sum up, NASA wants to use solar-powered ion engines to steal an asteroid and put it near the moon, giving our moon a moon of its own. Science, man, whoo-wee.

    We’ll know more on Thursday, when NASA is holding a press conference call to talk about the new engine project. The AEPS contract lasts for 36 months, and is valued at around $67 million, in which Aerojet will design, construct, and test the engine.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:37 pm on April 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , INVERSE,   

    From INVERSE: “Physicists Built a Super Tiny Engine Powered by a Single Calcium Atom” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    Physicists have developed an engine that you can’t see with the naked eye.

    In a paper published* today in the journal Science, the research team from the University of Mainz and University of Kassel in Germany created an electromagnetic system that traps a single charged Calcium-40 atom and oscillates it, creating energy just like steam-locomotive and car engines. And because of the quantum mechanical condition of this tiny engine, the physicists believe that the system works at the same level and can even be more efficient than the average car engine.

    “There has been a lot of theoretical explanations and investigations in quantum properties of engines since the late ‘50s,” lead researcher and experimental physicist at the University of Mainz, Johannes Roßnagel tells Inverse. “We have now shown that it’s possible.”

    Roßnagel and his team embarked on the project four years ago when they wanted to explore quantum effects in thermodynamics, and thought the best way to experiment would be to create an engine. They had to build everything from scratch on a small budget of a few hundred Euros, he says. They had to construct personalized electronics and a system that could control the ion at a very precise level. It took them an entire year just to develop the technique to obtain temperature measurements — common methods being too slow or inaccurate for their engine.

    What they ended up with was an eight millimeter-long and four-millimeter-in-diameter ion trap with gold plates and electrodes that sequestered the lone calcium atom (but any charged atom could do the job) inside an electromagnetic field. Two lasers point at the ends of the trap, one heating up the atom and the other cooling it down. This fluctuation in temperature drives the ion to create an ever-increasing harmonic oscillation — like a sound wave. It’s the same idea as larger thermal engines that rely on the gas or liquids to generate mechanical work, except in this case there’s just one particle, Roßnagel explains.

    1
    The single-atom engine and ion trap apparatus. Johannes Roßnagel/University of Mainz.

    While the single-atom engine could only produce 10-22 watts, but is actually comparable to a car engine, says Roßnagel. If you calculate the amount of energy individual gas particles in the average car engine, the power of the motor is in the same order of magnitude than the single-atom engine.

    “This was very surprising to us,” Roßnagel says. “This means that when you scale such a system down to a single particle, it’s still performing on the same level as macroscopic engines do.”

    He and his colleagues believe this level of efficiency is due to quantum effects, unique properties that can only be generated through single atoms and particles. Roßnagel explains that thermodynamic quantum effects would make it so engines do not have to rely on temperature as a sole energy source, and that a single-atom engine’s quantum properties have the potential to generate even more power than a thermal engine. However, outside physicists are not so certain.

    “I wouldn’t accept this efficiency is just from ‘the weirdness of quantum mechanics,’” Hartmut Häffner, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the experiment, told Popular Mechanics in 2014 when Roßnagel wrote a proposal paper about the engine. Häffner adds that the potential single-atom engine itself “is very interesting and very well-described. It’s trying to push the boundaries of what we know about thermodynamics into a new regime.”

    The single-atom engine Roßnagel and his team built is the smallest engine that he knows exists today. Yet, there is a possibility to create even smaller ones with a single electron, but he doesn’t believe there is any interest in pursuing one. “We have a single particle which is running in the engine, and whether this is a calcium atom or an electron, from our research point of view, it doesn’t make a difference.”

    Next, Roßnagel wants to build tiny refrigerators with the technology. By turning the thermodynamic cycle around, the single-atom engine would run exactly like a refrigerator, he explains. They system generates a temperature difference, creating a side that is heated and a side that is cooled — like our food storage appliances. In the far future, he can also see these nanoscale engines improving chips and single atom transistors.

    “The heat that’s produced during an operation is a very huge problem for [the chip industry]. I think to have additional cooling systems at hand would be very helpful,” he says.

    Regardless of what exactly comes out of their initial single-atom engine, Roßnagel believes “this will find some greater applications some day.”

    *Science paper:
    A single-atom heat engine

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on February 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Black hole with accretion disk, INVERSE   

    From INVERSE: “How a 5-Dimensional Black Hole Could Break Down General Relativity” 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    February 19, 2016
    Neel V. Patel

    We don’t live in a world that’s pinning the survival of humanity of Matthew McConaughey’s shoulders, but if it turns out the plot of the 2014 film Interstellar is true, then we live in a world with at least five dimensions. And that would mean that a ring-shaped black hole would, as scientists recently demonstrated, “break down” [Albert] Einstein’s general theory of relativity. (And to think, the man was just coming off a phenomenal week.)

    In a study published in Physical Review Letters, researchers from the UK simulated a black hole in a “5-D” universe shaped like a thin ring (which were first posited by theoretical physicists in 2002). In this universe, the black hole would bulge strangely, with stringy connections that become thinner as time passes. Eventually, those strings pinch off like budding bacteria or water drops off a stream and form miniature black holes of their own.

    This is wicked weird stuff, but we haven’t even touched on the most bizarre part. A black hole like this leads to what physicists call a naked singularity, where the equations that support general relativity — a foundational block of modern physics — stop making sense.

    That’s a pretty exhilarating thought. Our entire understanding of gravity is derived from general relativity. But the single biggest limitation behind the century-old school of physics has to do with singularities: points in gravity that are incredibly intense, the laws of physics as understand [?] them break down. They’re anomalies — inexplicable and and aggravating — yet general relativity predicts they exist at the center of black holes, where gravity is strong enough to suck all matter and light.

    None of this really matters inside a black hole’s event horizon — where the gravitational pull is so strong you cannot observe anything. But outside an event horizon, singularities are thorny. Like, thorny enough to throw physics into complete chaos.

    Black hole and its accretion disk. Image credit NASA Dana Berry SkyWorks Digital
    Black hole and its accretion disk. Image credit NASA Dana Berry SkyWorks Digital

    Which gives rise to the idea of naked singularity — where singularities can occur outside of an event horizon, but only in higher dimensions.

    “If naked singularities exist, general relativity breaks down,” study coauthor Saran Tunyasuvunakool said in a news release. “And if general relativity breaks down, it would throw everything upside down, because it would no longer have any predictive power — it could no longer be considered as a standalone theory to explain the universe.”

    Are five dimensions or more possible? If you’re a string theory enthusiast, then sure — as many as 11 dimensions are possible. But humans can’t observe the world beyond three dimensions, except perhaps through high energy particle experiments.

    This new simulation at least provides support for the idea that a naked singularity could exist. And in return, we can perhaps pull some of lessons back and test them in our own world to better understand the 3D world we live in right now.

    “The better we get at simulating Einstein’s theory of gravity in higher dimensions, the easier it will be for us to help with advancing new computational techniques — we’re pushing the limits of what you can do on a computer when it comes to Einstein’s theory,” Tunyasuvunakool said.

    Photos via NASA and University of Cambridge

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:49 am on January 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: INVERSE, ,   

    From INVERSE: “NASA JPL Introduces the Deep Space Atomic Clock 

    INVERSE

    INVERSE

    If successful, the time-keeping device could provide spacecraft with a new degree of autonomy.

    January 14, 2016
    Ian Stark

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) held an online press conference on Thursday to explain and discuss DSAC—the Deep Space Atomic Clock project—technology that is intended to utilize the precision of an atomic clock to free deep-space explorer crafts from having to rely on conversational signals with Earth antennas for tracking purposes.

    NASA Deep Space Atomic Clock Part I
    NASA Deep Space Atomic Clock Part II
    Two NASA Images for DSAC

    Currently, deep-space exploration missions rely on frequencies sent and received to determine positioning—and to connect with earthborn signals, those spacelabs must converse with one of three terrestrial antenna dishes (Deep Space Network or DSN stations) to determine and maintain trajectory. Placed across the world (in Australia, Spain and California), only one dish is available to communicate at a time—and with only one spacecraft at a time—leaving others waiting several hours to connect, meaning that by the time the antenna is open to send feed in response to what’s been received, the satellite has already changed position, forcing further adjustment.


    View/download mp4 video here.

    However, if crafts had their own onboard, accurate clocks, there would be no need to check in with Earth-based receivers to check coordinates—giving the exploring devices the ability to make autonomous course corrections and even land with high precision—and furthermore, although only one DSN is available at a given time, the freedom from broadcasting allows for data reception from multiple crafts at a time.

    Traveling accurately through deep space is an intricate venture. On Earth we can use latitude and longitude—but a spacecraft must use the positioning of the sun and the trajectory of a destination planet, moon, or other terminus (as all are moving in space). Having an onboard clock would help the crafts work out their own routes—measuring time to formulate positioning—and those timers must be incredibly precise, and able to resist deformation of time-keeping due to any anomalies that might affect a clock (gravity, the curvature of space, solar energy, among others).

    The Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC)—using ionized mercury atoms for accuracy—is expected to be able to provide disruption-resistance and accurate time keeping. Atomic clocks tend to be large contraptions, but the DSAC is space-portable—about the size of a common kitchen toaster—and the JPL is ready to place a DSAC in space to test its ability to maintain time accuracy.

    The JPL announced Thursday that the DSAC test is scheduled to go into low orbit September 2016, on a five-month mission that—if successful—could not only lead to future deep-space missions equipped with DSACs, but the upgrading of Earth-orbiting GPS satellite clocks, increasing efficiency for GPS as well.


    Watch/download mp4 video here.

    See the full article here .

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