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  • richardmitnick 3:56 pm on September 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    From The New York Times: “We’re Barely Listening to the U.S.’s Most Dangerous Volcanoes” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    Sept. 9, 2019
    Shannon Hall

    A thicket of red tape and regulations have made it difficult for volcanologists to build monitoring stations along Mount Hood and other active volcanoes.

    1
    Mount Hood in Oregon is one of 161 active volcanoes in the United States, many of them in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Range.Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

    Seth Moran is worried about Mount Hood.

    In the 1780s, the volcano rumbled to life with such force that it sent high-speed avalanches of hot rock, gas and ash down its slopes. Those flows quickly melted the snow and ice and mixed with the meltwater to create violent slurries as thick as concrete that traveled huge distances. They destroyed everything in their path.

    Today, the volcano, a prominent backdrop against Portland, Ore., is eerily silent. But it won’t stay that way.

    Mount Hood remains an active volcano — meaning that it will erupt again. And when it does, it could unleash mudflows not unlike those from Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano in 1985. There, a mudflow entombed the town of Armero, killing roughly 21,000 people in the dead of night.

    On Mount Hood, “any little thing that happens could have a big consequence,” said Dr. Moran, scientist-in-charge at the federal Cascades Volcano Observatory.

    And yet the volcano is hardly monitored. If scientists miss early warning signs of an eruption, they might not know the volcano is about to blow until it’s too late.

    Determined to avoid such a tragedy, Dr. Moran and his colleagues proposed installing new instruments on the flanks of Mount Hood in 2014. Those include three seismometers to measure earthquakes, three GPS instruments to chart ground deformation and one instrument to monitor gas emissions at four different locations on the mountain.

    But they quickly hit a major hiccup: The monitoring sites are in wilderness areas, meaning that the use of the land is tightly restricted. It took five years before the Forest Service granted the team approval in August.

    The approval is a promising step forward, but Dr. Moran and his colleagues still face limitations, including potential legal action that may block their work.

    Such obstacles are a problem across the United States where most volcanoes lack adequate monitoring. Although federal legislation passed in March could help improve the monitoring of volcanoes like Mount Hood, scientists remain concerned that red tape could continue to leave them blind to future eruptions, with deadly consequences.

    Listening for rumbles and belches

    The United States is home to 161 active volcanoes, many of which form a line along the west coast through California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Seven of the 10 most dangerous American volcanoes are within the Cascade Range, and six of those are not adequately monitored.

    In contrast, countries like Japan, Iceland and Chile smother their high-threat volcanoes in scientific instruments.

    “The U.S. really doesn’t have anything to this level,” said Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University in Ohio.

    Yet there is no question that better monitoring could save lives. Volcanoes don’t typically erupt without warning. As Mount St. Helens awoke in May 1980, a series of small earthquakes could be felt on the surface nearby. Shortly thereafter, the volcano started to deform. Steam explosions sculpted a new crater, while a bulge emerged on the volcano’s north flank. Earthquakes continued, landslides rumbled and ash-rich plumes erupted — all before the main event.

    2
    Mount St. Helens awoke in May 1980. OregonLive.com

    Although not all volcanoes follow such a steady, pre-eruptive pattern, they typically either tremble, deform or belch volcanic gases — meaning that if scientists monitor these three signals, they will likely be able to forecast when a volcanic eruption will happen.

    Take Hawaii as an example. Shortly after earthquakes picked up at the Kilauea volcano on April 30, 2018, scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory could tell that they were not only increasing, but they were also propagating to the east.

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    Kilauea volcano on April 30, 2018. Lava flowing on May 6 through the Leilani Estates subdivision. Credit Bruce Omori/EPA, via Shutterstock.

    “That was not only cool, it was vital for emergency management,” Dr. Moran said.

    Scientists used those signals to project where magma might erupt, and planners evacuated residents in that area. The eruption destroyed more than 700 homes, but remarkably no one died.

    And it was all thanks to 60 seismic stations located across the island.

    “Without those instruments, we would have been blind,” said Tina Neal, the scientist-in-charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. “While we would have known something was happening, we would have been less able to give guidance about where and what was likely to happen.”

    Nature’s Bill of Rights

    Dr. Moran and his colleagues had that example in mind as they pressed their case for adding instruments to Mount Hood.

    They submitted a proposal to the Forest Service in 2014. But the instruments — which will be housed in four-feet-tall boxes with radio antennas and solar panels on the outside — violate the Wilderness Act, which prohibits any new structures and even noise pollution within federal wilderness areas.

    “I see the Wilderness Act as nature’s bill of rights,” said George Nickas, the executive director of Wilderness Watch, a conservation group that opposed volcano monitoring in federal wilderness. “I think it is so important to have places like that where we can just step back, out of respect and humility, and appreciate nature for what it is.”

    In reviewing Dr. Moran’s proposal, the Forest Service provided the public with an opportunity to comment, during which they received more than 2,000 statements — most of which agreed that the wilderness needs safeguarding.

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    U.S.G.S. volcano monitoring equipment, right, on Mount St. Helens. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

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    Fiberglass enclosures for volcano monitoring equipment awaiting placement on Mount Hood. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

    6
    When Mount St. Helens first began to rumble, scientists couldn’t tell if the quakes originated under the volcano itself or at a nearby fault. Scientists rushed to place additional instruments and within days they knew the volcano itself was shaking. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

    To Jonathan Fink, a geologist at Portland State University who also wrote a public comment in favor of volcano monitoring, this argument is misplaced.

    “I’m all for protecting wilderness,” Dr. Fink said. “But this is just a question of public safety. And I think letting a helicopter in to put some instruments in that can then be monitored remotely seems like a pretty minor exception to the wilderness policies.”

    Even so, many critics argue that we can’t make even a single exception — or there won’t be wilderness at all.

    “It’s not wilderness if you have structures, if you have roads, if you have motorization,” said Gary Macfarlane, Wilderness Watch’s president. “In fact, it’s antithetical to the whole idea of wilderness.”

    Lessons from Mount St. Helens

    Other critics say the project is far from necessary. “If we can do something like land one of those landers on Mars, we can move a few miles back from a volcanic feature and monitor it from a little further away,” said Bernie Smith, a retired employee of the Forest Service who wrote a public comment against the project.

    But Dr. Moran and others argue that the work is not possible unless they get up close, and before the volcano begins to rock.

    “The name of the game is to be able to detect and correctly interpret these warning signs as soon as possible — to give society as much time as possible to get ready,” Dr. Moran said.

    When Mount St. Helens first began to rumble, scientists couldn’t tell if the quakes originated under the volcano itself or five miles away at a nearby fault. They only had one seismometer two miles to the west of the volcano. So they rushed to place more instruments on its slopes (a risk that would not be allowed today) and within days they knew the volcano itself was shaking.

    “Looking back on it, it’s really miraculous that they were able to do what they did,” Dr. Moran said.

    .7
    The Calbuco volcano erupting in southern Chile on April 22, 2015. Credit Diego Main/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Scientists have since learned that we don’t always get as much time as Mount St. Helens allowed. At Calbuco, a volcano in southern Chile that’s similar to the volcanoes in the Cascades, all was quiet during the early afternoon of April 22, 2015. But tremors began in the late afternoon, and by 6:04 p.m. local time, the mountain was sending a plume of gas 10 miles into the sky.

    With such a narrow window, the first line of defense is to have a solid monitoring network in place whenever a volcano awakens.

    “You’re going to either get in there ahead of time and put in the instrumentation you need, or you’re just going to accept that you’re going to go blind into the entire eruptive period and whatever happens, happens,” said Jacob Lowenstern, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey.

    Not if, but when

    Although none of these volcanoes appear to be building toward an eruption today, there is no question that they pose a serious hazard.

    “The U.S.G.S. has a deep understanding that these volcanoes are going to erupt again — within our lifetimes, our children’s lifetimes,” said Carolyn Driedger, a hydrologist at the Cascades observatory. “The evidence is all there.”

    Beyond Mount Hood, Mount Rainier near Seattle could also unleash viscous volcanic mudflows. There, 80,000 people live in the path of disaster and yet the mountain only has 19 instruments, which scientists say is not enough given its vast size.

    7
    Aerial photo of Mount Rainier from the west. Stan Shebs

    And even volcanoes that don’t loom so close to populated areas could have far-reaching effects.

    Glacier Peak in northern Washington has produced some of the most explosive eruptions in the contiguous United States, meaning the ability to throw enough ash into the air to halt air traffic for days or even weeks and cost billions of dollars. It has only one seismometer.

    8
    Glacier Peak. Walter Siegmund

    8
    Andy Lockhart, a geophysicist at the Cascades observatory, working on a tripwire for part of a system to detect debris flow to be placed on Mount Rainier. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

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    Seismometers at the Cascades Volcano Observatory awaiting placement on Mount Hood. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

    Without equipment to detect the eruption, airplane passengers just might find themselves living a high-altitude nightmare. In 1989, a Boeing 747 flew through an undetected ash cloud in Alaska. All four engines shut down and the airplane went into a nose-dive. It descended 13,000 feet before the pilots were able to restart the engines. Hundreds of thousands of people fly across the West Coast and above active volcanoes every day.

    Eruptions in Alaska and California would also be felt across the nation. Anchorage is a major cargo hub, meaning that many FedEx or U.P.S. packages travel through Alaska. But an eruption might bring that to an alarming halt. And because California produces a large portion of the nation’s food, an eruption might limit the fruits and vegetables found at supermarkets as far as the East Coast.

    “We’re not just doing this for academic purposes. This is so we can give good information to emergency managers,” Dr. Driedger said. “That’s the end in all of this.”

    Hoping for slumber

    Despite the permit’s recent approval, Dr. Driedger notes that there are still a number of steps before any instruments can be placed on Mount Hood. They will now have to choreograph the assembly of instruments, hire personnel and schedule helicopter trips around weather and other potential obstacles.

    Moreover, the Forest Service and the observatory could still face a legal challenge from Wilderness Watch or other groups that adds years to the installation, if not blocking it altogether.

    “This is more proof that the Forest Service has abandoned any pretense of administering wilderness as per the letter or spirit of the Wilderness Act,” said Mr. Macfarlane, whose group is discussing litigation with an attorney but has not yet decided whether to file suit.

    And then there is more work to be done monitoring other hazardous volcanoes beyond Mount Hood.

    Volcanologists across the nation were pleased this March when Congress passed the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act, which seeks to ensure that volcanoes nationwide are adequately monitored.

    But the bill is only an authorization — meaning that Congress has not actually invested the $55 million over five years required to apply for new permits, install more equipment and pay to monitor 34 of the nation’s most dangerous volcanoes. Nor will it change the fact that scientists like Dr. Moran must still grapple with regulations protecting federal wilderness.

    So Dr. Moran, aware that litigation is a possibility, is moving forward with caution. This month, his team will begin to install monitoring stations at Mount Hood. He then hopes the Forest Service will issue a permit to install equipment at Glacier Peak, then turn back to Washington’s Mount Baker. Eventually he would like to install more instruments on Mount Hood, but first he needs to create sufficient networks elsewhere.

    While they wait, Dr. Moran and his colleagues will hold their breath, hopeful that these volcanoes stay in a deep slumber, but aware that one just might rouse at any moment.

    9
    Location is not identified. Amanda Lucier for The New York Times.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on September 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , “I think I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics” observed the physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman., , Bohr scored a decisive victory at least in the public-relations battle., Even Physicists Don’t Understand Quantum Mechanics, Famous debates between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr., NYT, ,   

    From The New York Times- Sean Carroll: “Even Physicists Don’t Understand Quantum Mechanics…” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    Sept. 7, 2019
    Sean M. Carroll, Caltech

    …Worse, they don’t seem to want to understand it.


    Sean M. Carroll Taken at LogiCalLA 14 January 2017 Sgerbic

    1
    Alejandro Guijarro, Tristan Hoare Gallery, London

    “I think I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics,” observed the physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman. That’s not surprising, as far as it goes. Science makes progress by confronting our lack of understanding, and quantum mechanics has a reputation for being especially mysterious.

    What’s surprising is that physicists seem to be O.K. with not understanding the most important theory they have.

    Quantum mechanics, assembled gradually by a group of brilliant minds over the first decades of the 20th century, is an incredibly successful theory. We need it to account for how atoms decay, why stars shine, how transistors and lasers work and, for that matter, why tables and chairs are solid rather than immediately collapsing onto the floor.

    Scientists can use quantum mechanics with perfect confidence. But it’s a black box. We can set up a physical situation, and make predictions about what will happen next that are verified to spectacular accuracy. What we don’t do is claim to understand quantum mechanics. Physicists don’t understand their own theory any better than a typical smartphone user understands what’s going on inside the device.

    There are two problems. One is that quantum mechanics, as it is enshrined in textbooks, seems to require separate rules for how quantum objects behave when we’re not looking at them, and how they behave when they are being observed. When we’re not looking, they exist in “superpositions” of different possibilities, such as being at any one of various locations in space. But when we look, they suddenly snap into just a single location, and that’s where we see them. We can’t predict exactly what that location will be; the best we can do is calculate the probability of different outcomes.

    The whole thing is preposterous. Why are observations special? What counts as an “observation,” anyway? When exactly does it happen? Does it need to be performed by a person? Is consciousness somehow involved in the basic rules of reality? Together these questions are known as the “measurement problem” of quantum theory.

    3
    Alejandro Guijarro, Tristan Hoare Gallery, London

    The other problem is that we don’t agree on what it is that quantum theory actually describes, even when we’re not performing measurements. We describe a quantum object such as an electron in terms of a “wave function,” which collects the superposition of all the possible measurement outcomes into a single mathematical object. When they’re not being observed, wave functions evolve according to a famous equation written down by Erwin Schrödinger.

    But what is the wave function? Is it a complete and comprehensive representation of the world? Or do we need additional physical quantities to fully capture reality, as Albert Einstein and others suspected? Or does the wave function have no direct connection with reality at all, merely characterizing our personal ignorance about what we will eventually measure in our experiments?

    Until physicists definitively answer these questions, they can’t really be said to understand quantum mechanics — thus Feynman’s lament. Which is bad, because quantum mechanics is the most fundamental theory we have, sitting squarely at the center of every serious attempt to formulate deep laws of nature. If nobody understands quantum mechanics, nobody understands the universe.

    You would naturally think, then, that understanding quantum mechanics would be the absolute highest priority among physicists worldwide. Investigating the foundations of quantum theory should be a glamour specialty within the field, attracting the brightest minds, highest salaries and most prestigious prizes. Physicists, you might imagine, would stop at nothing until they truly understood quantum mechanics.

    The reality is exactly backward. Few modern physics departments have researchers working to understand the foundations of quantum theory. On the contrary, students who demonstrate an interest in the topic are gently but firmly — maybe not so gently — steered away, sometimes with an admonishment to “Shut up and calculate!” Professors who become interested might see their grant money drying up, as their colleagues bemoan that they have lost interest in serious work.

    This has been the case since the 1930s, when physicists collectively decided that what mattered was not understanding quantum mechanics itself; what mattered was using a set of ad hoc quantum rules to construct models of particles and materials. The former enterprise came to be thought of as vaguely philosophical and disreputable. One is reminded of Aesop’s fox, who decided that the grapes he couldn’t reach were probably sour, and he didn’t want them anyway. Physicists brought up in the modern system will look into your eyes and explain with all sincerity that they’re not really interested in understanding how nature really works; they just want to successfully predict the outcomes of experiments.

    This attitude can be traced to the dawn of modern quantum theory. In the 1920s there was a series of famous debates between Einstein and Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum theory. Einstein argued that contemporary versions of quantum theory didn’t rise to the level of a complete physical theory, and that we should try to dig more deeply. But Bohr felt otherwise, insisting that everything was in fine shape. Much more academically collaborative and rhetorically persuasive than Einstein, Bohr scored a decisive victory, at least in the public-relations battle.

    Not everyone was happy that Bohr’s view prevailed, but these people typically found themselves shunned by or estranged from the field. In the 1950s the physicist David Bohm, egged on by Einstein, proposed an ingenious way of augmenting traditional quantum theory in order to solve the measurement problem. Werner Heisenberg, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, responded by labeling the theory “a superfluous ideological superstructure,” and Bohm’s former mentor Robert Oppenheimer huffed, “If we cannot disprove Bohm, then we must agree to ignore him.”

    Around the same time, a graduate student named Hugh Everett invented the “many-worlds” theory, another attempt to solve the measurement problem, only to be ridiculed by Bohr’s defenders. Everett didn’t even try to stay in academia, turning to defense analysis after he graduated.

    A more recent solution to the measurement problem, proposed by the physicists Giancarlo Ghirardi, Alberto Rimini and Tulio Weber, is unknown to most physicists.

    These ideas are not simply woolly-headed “interpretations” of quantum mechanics. They are legitimately distinct physical theories, with potentially new experimental consequences. But they have been neglected by most scientists. For years, the leading journal in physics had an explicit policy that papers on the foundations of quantum mechanics were to be rejected out of hand.

    Of course there are an infinite number of questions that scientists could choose to worry about, and one must prioritize somehow. Over the course of the 20th century, physicists decided that it was more important to put quantum mechanics to work than to understand how it works. And to be fair, part of their rationale was that it was hard to actually see a way forward. What were the experiments one could do that might illuminate the measurement problem?

    The situation might be changing, albeit gradually. The current generation of philosophers of physics takes quantum mechanics very seriously, and they have done crucially important work in bringing conceptual clarity to the field. Empirically minded physicists have realized that the phenomenon of measurement can be directly probed by sufficiently subtle experiments. And the advance of technology has brought questions about quantum computers and quantum information to the forefront of the field. Together, these trends might make it once again respectable to think about the foundations of quantum theory, as it briefly was in Einstein and Bohr’s day.

    Meanwhile, it turns out that how reality works might actually matter. Our best attempts to understand fundamental physics have reached something of an impasse, stymied by a paucity of surprising new experimental results. Scientists discovered the Higgs boson in 2012, but that had been predicted in 1964. Gravitational waves were triumphantly observed in 2015, but they had been predicted a hundred years before. It’s hard to make progress when the data just keep confirming the theories we have, rather than pointing toward new ones.

    The problem is that, despite the success of our current theories at fitting the data, they can’t be the final answer, because they are internally inconsistent. Gravity, in particular, doesn’t fit into the framework of quantum mechanics like our other theories do. It’s possible — maybe even perfectly reasonable — to imagine that our inability to understand quantum mechanics itself is standing in the way.

    After almost a century of pretending that understanding quantum mechanics isn’t a crucial task for physicists, we need to take this challenge seriously.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:11 pm on August 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Witnessing the Birth of a Crater Lake Where Lava Just Flowed", Although the rocks there are now cool enough to permit liquid water to exist they remain scorching hot., As of now there are three pools each growing in size and likely to coalesce., Crucially the crater floor which progressively collapsed during the 2018 eruption is now 167 feet below the water table., It’s possible that we are witnessing the birth of a full-blown crater lake in a pit once ravaged by fire., Last spring Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano began its most destructive eruption in recorded history., NYT, The water was first spotted toward the end of July when helicopters passing over Halema’uma’u saw a green anomaly., , Water is at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u where three small ponds have begun to merge.   

    From The New York Times: “Witnessing the Birth of a Crater Lake Where Lava Just Flowed” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    Aug. 7, 2019
    Robin George Andrews

    The magma mysteriously drained from the crevice last year, and now scorching pools of water are bubbling up from below.

    1
    A view of Halema‘uma‘u from the summit of Kilauea, where a bright pool of lava at the center of the crater had existed for nearly 10 years. Credit C. Parcheta/U.S. Geological Survey

    Last spring, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano began its most destructive eruption in recorded history.

    2

    On May 2, as its underlying magma supply headed to the mountain’s lower east rift zone, and a lava lake within the Halema’uma’u summit crater that had been there for 10 years began to rapidly drain. A week later, this pool of molten fury had vanished from sight.

    Now, long after the last embers of that eruption faded, the lake is being replaced by water that is likely rising from below.

    A single green pool was spotted at the base of the gargantuan crater in late July. As of now, there are three pools, each growing in size and likely to coalesce.

    3
    Water at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u, where three small ponds have begun to merge. The pond in the foreground, the largest, is about 50 feet across. Credit M. Patrick/U.S. Geological Survey

    4
    A view of the bottom taken with a thermal crater. Credit M. Patrick/U.S. Geological Survey

    Only time will tell, but it’s possible that we are witnessing the birth of a full-blown crater lake in a pit once ravaged by fire.

    Some Hawaiian oral histories may suggest that water was present in Halema’uma’u around the year 1500, and again around 1650, says Don Swanson, scientist emeritus at the United States Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. But written observations of the summit crater only go back to 1823, so this is the first time it can be definitively said to contain water in the last couple of centuries.

    The water was first spotted toward the end of July, when helicopters passing over Halema’uma’u saw a green anomaly. Some thought it might be an illusion created by sulfur minerals or algae But an Aug. 1 flyover by scientists at the observatory confirmed a pool of water.

    Although the rocks there are now cool enough to permit liquid water to exist, they remain scorching hot. The water, acidified by escaping magmatic gas, is about 158 degrees Fahrenheit. It is flanked by several fumaroles, vents unleashing volcanic gas at temperatures as high as 392 degrees.

    It may seem intuitive that an empty crater is simply filling up with rainwater, but Dr. Swanson says that’s unlikely. “We’ve had a year with a lot of rain and the pond only showed up recently,” he said.

    Crucially, the crater floor, which progressively collapsed during the 2018 eruption, is now 167 feet below the water table. That means the liquid here is probably groundwater, migrating in sideways and collecting within the crater.

    To confirm its provenance, the scientists will need to gather samples. If the water is old, that would suggest it had been underground for a considerable length of time and hasn’t recently fallen from the sky.

    Getting those samples will require someone with a good aim, because it’s too dangerous to obtain them on foot. Scientists want to fly a helicopter over Halema’uma’u and scoop some up using a bucket attached to a 1,640-foot-long rope.

    Dr. Swanson, who reported the discovery in a blog post on the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s website this month, explained that this crater filled with lava where the water is now pooling has come and gone in the past. From 1823, it existed until the late-1890s, when it disappeared before springing up again in the early 1900s. Then, it was present until explosions rocked the summit in 1924. It vanished yet again until 2008, after which it grew and persisted until last year.

    “There are no facts about the future,” said Dr. Swanson, but there is a good chance that magma will slowly rise up the volcano’s throat, reoccupy the crater and form a new lava lake. Based on its past behavior, if it does return, it will only take a few years to do so, and the pooling water won’t last long.

    “Eventually,” said Dr. Swanson, “the volcano will win the battle.”

    Right now, the depth of the water isn’t known, but if it’s dozens of feet below the surface, there could be fireworks. Water and magma can make for an unpredictable, explosive mixture, and a deeper water column makes that violent interaction more likely.

    Fortunately, any blasts will be confined to the summit crater itself. “There is a greater potential for explosions than we’d realized before,” Dr. Swanson said, “but this is not going to affect public safety.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on July 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NYT, The newly announced TOI-270 system consists of three planets with orbits of 11.4 day; 5.7 days and 3.4 days long., The newly found system goes by the name TOI-270 for Tess Object of Interest., The outer two planets are “sub-Neptunes” each slightly more than twice the size of the Earth and with masses at least five times greater according to models., They circle a star so obscure that it is known in catalogs only by various numbers: TOI 270; TIC 259377017; 2MASS J04333970-5157222 and the like., Three new worlds found that orbit a dim red dwarf star only 73 light-years from here in the southern constellation Pictor. The system goes by the name TOI-270: for Tess Object of Interest.   

    From The New York Times: “NASA’s TESS Satellite Spots ‘Missing Link’ Exoplanets” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    July 29, 2019
    Dennis Overbye

    1
    NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite before its launch in April 2018. It recently spotted three exoplanets 73 light-years away in the constellation Pictor.Credit NASA, via Reuters

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    NASA’s new planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is now halfway through its first tour of the nearby universe. It has been looking for worlds that might be fit for you, me or some other form of life, and as usual, nature has been generous in its rewards.

    Since its launch in April 2018, TESS has already discovered 21 new planets and 850 more potential worlds that have yet to be confirmed, all residing within a few dozen light years of the sun and our own solar system, according to George Ricker, an M.I.T. researcher who heads the TESS project. So far, he said, TESS “has far exceeded our most optimistic hopes.”

    Dr. Ricker made his announcement on Monday at M.I.T., in Cambridge, Mass., at a meeting devoted to TESS results.

    Some of the discoveries generating the most excitement among the TESS crew were three new worlds that orbit a dim red dwarf star only 73 light-years from here in the southern constellation Pictor. The system goes by the name TOI-270, for Tess Object of Interest.

    “TOI-270 is one of the prime systems TESS was set out to discover,” Maximilian Guenther, an astrophysicist at M.I.T., said in an email. He is the lead author of a paper on the new planets to be published in Nature Astronomy.

    While none of the three planets are likely habitable, more planets may yet be found farther out in the star system, orbiting in more comfortable climes.

    The new system provides a laboratory for studying many of the puzzles of exoplanets, including how they form, why some have atmospheres and whether some might be habitable. “It really ticks all the boxes,” Dr. Guenther said, enthusiastically.

    In addition to planets, TESS has discovered supernova explosions, and even three comets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris, Dr. Ricker’s team announced.

    And there is a whole half of the sky — the half visible to residents of Earth’s northern hemisphere — yet to be explored.

    TESS was launched from Cape Canaveral on April 18, 2018. Two months later it began scanning the southern sky with four large cameras, which stared at overlapping sections for 27 days at a time. They were looking for stars that blinked when planets passed in front of them — a telltale sign of an orbiting exoplanet.

    The satellite is the successor to NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which employed a similar technique to conduct a census of exoplanets in a small, distant patch of the Milky Way.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    It found thousands, suggesting that there is at least one planet for every star in the galaxy, but they were all too far away to study in more detail.

    The job of TESS is to find exoplanets that are close enough to study, by surveying stars within about 300 light-years from Earth. Most of these stars are small, dim and relatively cool objects called red dwarfs. For an exoplanet around any such star to be habitable, with a temperature suitable for liquid water, it would need to be close enough to the star to complete its orbit in just a week or two. That period fits neatly into the 27-day period during which TESS watches and records each star.

    The newly announced TOI-270 system consists of three planets with orbits of 11.4 days, 5.7 days and 3.4 days long. They circle a star so obscure that it is known in catalogs only by various numbers: TOI 270, TIC 259377017, 2MASS J04333970-5157222, and the like.

    The outer two planets are “sub-Neptunes,” each slightly more than twice the size of the Earth, and with masses at least five times greater, according to models. (Neptune is about four times bigger than Earth, and 17 times as massive.) The innermost exoplanet is a “Super Earth,” about 1.2 times the size of our home world.

    3
    A snapshot by TESS of the Large Magellanic Cloud, right, and the bright star R Doradus, left, taken Aug. 7, 2018. The frame is part of a swath of the southern sky captured by TESS during its initial round of data collection.Credit NASA/MIT/TESS

    Dr. Guenther said the TESS team was initially very excited, when the outermost of the three planets, one of the sub-Neptunes, seemed to orbit in the star’s habitable zone; that would have been a first for TESS. But as the analysis advanced, the team concluded that the planet likely had a thick greenhouse atmosphere, with suffocating surface temperatures.

    But any planets orbiting farther from the star could be habitable, Dr. Guenther and his colleagues said. Locating any such planets is made easier by the fact that the star is relatively quiet, free of outbursts and noise that could interfere with searches.

    “Chances are good that we will find more planets further out in the habitable zone,” he said.

    The new system could shed light on a looming planetary mystery: Why are there no planets in the size range between 1.5 and 2 times that of Earth?

    Planets below that size range, including Mars and Venus (and, of course, Earth), are rocky worlds. Planets more than twice the size of Earth have thick gas atmospheres, presumably surrounding rocky cores — like Neptune, but smaller. Our own solar system does not contain any sub-Neptunes; the only known examples are far away, found in the growing catalogs of exoplanets.

    The worlds of TOI-270 crowd either side of this missing-link gap.

    It is intriguing that the innermost planet is also the small rocky one, Dr. Guenther said. Perhaps, he suggested, it was once a gas giant like its siblings, but lost its atmosphere when, in the ceaseless shift of orbits and worlds, it moved too close to its star. If that notion bears out, it could have consequences far beyond the TOI-270 system, including for our own solar system.

    Follow-up observations are already being planned with NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to probe the atmospheres of these planets and see what they are made of.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    “TOI-270 is a true Disneyland for exoplanet science because it offers something for every research area,” said Dr. Guenther. “It is an exceptional laboratory for not one, but many reasons.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:14 am on July 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Cable bacteria grow to astonishing densities. One square inch of sediment may contain as much as eight miles of cables., , Discoveries like these raised the possibility that other bacteria might be dabbling in electricity., Electroactive bacteria, Geobacter can also plug into other species of microbes., Geobacter metallireducens feeds on carbon compounds, Geobacter transfers its electrons to iron oxide or rust., NYT, , The microbe responded by sprouting hairlike growths   

    From The New York Times: “Wired Bacteria Form Nature’s Power Grid: ‘We Have an Electric Planet’ “ 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    July 1, 2019
    Carl Zimmer

    Electroactive bacteria were running current through “wires” long before humans learned the trick.

    1
    Gordon Studer

    At three o’clock in the afternoon on September 4, 1882, the electrical age began. The Edison Illuminating Company switched on its Pearl Street power plant, and a network of copper wires came alive, delivering current to a few dozen buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.

    One of those buildings housed this newspaper. As night fell, reporters at The New York Times gloried in the steady illumination thrown off by Thomas Edison’s electric lamps. “The light was soft, mellow, and grateful to the eye, and it seemed almost like writing by daylight,” they reported in an article the following day.

    But nature invented the electrical grid first, it turns out. Even in 1882, thousands of miles of wires were already installed in the ground in the New York region — in meadows, in salt marshes, in muddy river bottoms. They were built by microbes, which used them to shuttle electricity.

    Electroactive bacteria were unknown to science until a couple of decades ago. But now that scientists know what to look for, they’re finding this natural electricity across much of the world, even on the ocean floor. It alters entire ecosystems, and may help control the chemistry of the Earth.
    What on Earth Is Going On?

    “Not to sound too crazy, but we have an electric planet,” said John Stolz, a microbiologist at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

    In the mid-1980s, Dr. Stolz was helping to study a baffling microbe fished out of the Potomac River by his colleague Derek Lovley. The microbe, Geobacter metallireducens, had a bizarre metabolism. “It took me six months to figure out how to grow it in the lab,” said Dr. Lovley, now a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

    Like us, Geobacter feed on carbon compounds. As our cells break down these compounds to generate energy, they strip off free electrons and transfer them to oxygen atoms, producing water molecules. Geobacter couldn’t use oxygen, however, because it lived at the bottom of the Potomac, where the element was in short supply.

    Instead, Geobacter transfers its electrons to iron oxide, or rust, Dr. Lovley and his colleagues discovered. The process helps turn rust into another iron compound, called magnetite.

    The finding left the scientists with a puzzle. We humans draw oxygen into our cells to utilize it, but Geobacter does not import rust. So the microbe must somehow get the electrons out of its cell body and attach them to rust particles. How?

    A real live wire

    The researchers struggled for years to find the answer. Dr. Stolz eventually turned to other microbes to study. But Dr. Lovley soldiered on. Over the years, he and his colleagues have come across Geobacter in many places far beyond the Potomac. They’ve even encountered the bacteria in oil drilled from deep underground. “It’s basically found everywhere,” Dr. Lovley said.

    In the early 2000s, Dr. Lovley’s team discovered that Geobacter could sense rust in its neighborhood. The microbe responded by sprouting hairlike growths.

    Maybe each of those growths, known as a pilus, was actually a wire that latched onto the rust, Dr. Lovley thought. Electrons could flow from the bacterium down the wire to the receptive rust. “It seemed like a wild idea at the time,” Dr. Lovley said.

    But he and his team found several clues suggesting that the pilus is indeed a living wire. In one experiment, when Geobacter was prevented from making pili, the bacteria couldn’t turn rust to magnetite. In another, Dr. Lovley and his colleagues plucked pili from the bacteria and touched them with an electrified probe. The current swiftly shot down the length of the hairs.

    Subsequent research revealed that Geobacter can deploy its wires in different ways to make a living. Not only can it plug directly into rust, it can also plug into other species of microbes.

    The partners of Geobacter welcome the incoming flow of electrons. They use the current to power their own chemical reactions, which convert carbon dioxide into methane.

    2
    Gordon Studer

    Discoveries like these raised the possibility that other bacteria might be dabbling in electricity. And in recent years, microbiologists have discovered a number of species that do.

    “When people are able to dig down at the molecular level, we’re finding major differences in strategy,” said Jeff Gralnick of the University of Minnesota. “Microbes have solved this issue in several different ways.”

    In the early 2000s, a Danish microbiologist named Lars Peter Nielsen discovered a very different way to build a microbial wire. He dug up some mud from the Bay of Aarhus and brought it to his lab. Putting probes in the mud, he observed the chemical reactions carried out by its microbes.

    “It developed in a very weird direction,” Dr. Nielsen recalled.

    At the base of the mud, Dr. Nielsen observed a buildup of a foul-smelling gas called hydrogen sulfide. That alone was not surprising — microbes in oxygen-free depths can produce huge amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Normally, the gas rises the surface, where oxygen-breathing bacteria can break most of it down.

    But the hydrogen sulfide in the Aarhus mud never made it to the surface. About an inch below the top of the mud, it disappeared; something was destroying it along the way.

    After weeks of perplexity, Dr. Nielsen woke up one night with an idea. If the bacteria at the bottom of the mud broke hydrogen sulfide without oxygen, they would build up extra electrons. This reaction could only take place if they could get rid of the electrons. Maybe they were delivering them to bacteria at the surface.

    “I imagined it could be electric wires, and I could explain all of this,” he said.

    So Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues looked for wires, and they found them. But the wires in the Aarhus mud were unlike anything previously discovered.

    Each wire runs vertically up through the mud, measuring up to two inches in length. And each one is made up of thousands of cells stacked on top of each other like a tower of coins. The cells build a protein sleeve around themselves that conducts electricity.

    As the bacteria at the bottom break down hydrogen sulfide, they release electrons, which flow upward along the “cable bacteria” to the surface. There, other bacteria — the same kind as on the bottom, but employing a different metabolic reaction — use the electrons to combine oxygen and hydrogen and make water.

    Cable bacteria are not unique to Aarhus, it turns out. Dr. Nielsen and other researchers have found them — at least six species so far — in many places around the world, including tidal pools, mud flats, fjords, salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds.

    And cable bacteria grow to astonishing densities. One square inch of sediment may contain as much as eight miles of cables. Dr. Nielsen eventually learned to spot cable bacteria with the naked eye. Their wires look like spider silk reflecting the sun.

    Electroactive microbes are so abundant, in fact, that researchers now suspect that they have a profound impact on the planet. The bioelectric currents may convert minerals from one form to another, for instance, fostering the growth of a diversity of other species. Some researchers have speculated that electroactive microbes may help regulate the chemistry of both the oceans and the atmosphere.

    “To me, it’s a strong reminder of how ready we are to ignore things we cannot imagine,” Dr. Nielsen said.

    Electroactive bacteria for hire

    Much about these microbes remains murky, and subject to debate. In April, Nikhil S. Malvankar, a physicist at Yale University, and his colleagues challenged Dr. Lovley’s finding that Geobacter use pili as wires.

    Their research indicates that bacteria use a different structure to pump electrons. It’s a wire built from building blocks called cytochromes. Individual cytochromes are important for moving electrons around inside cells. But until now no one knew they could be stacked into a conductive wire.

    “There never had been a material like this before,” Dr. Malvankar said.

    Sarah Glaven, a research biologist at the United States Naval Research Laboratory who was not involved in the new study, said she found it compelling. “Totally believe it,” she said. “The question is, is it just part of the puzzle?”

    It’s possible that Geobacter uses both structures to move electrons, Dr. Glaven said. Or maybe one serves a different function, and just happens to conduct electricity in the hands of a scientist.

    The answers to such questions matter deeply to scientists, who are tinkering with electroactive bacteria to develop new kinds of technology.

    At Cornell University, Buz Barstow and his colleagues are investigating the possibility of wiring bacteria to solar panels. The panels would capture sunlight and generate a stream of electrons. The electrons would stream down microbial wires to a species of bacteria called Shewanella, which would use the energy to convert sugar into fuel.

    It’s still a distant dream. For now, Dr. Barstow is trying to work out the basic biology by which Shewanella moves electrons from its wires to the molecules it uses for its metabolism. But he is so taken with the elegance of electroactive bacteria that he figures it’s worth a shot. “You’re talking to someone who has drunk the Kool-Aid,” he said.

    Other researchers are looking into using these filaments as sensors. For instance, a wristband with embedded wires might monitor people’s health by delivering electric current when it detects chemical changes in sweat. Dr. Lovley and his colleagues are genetically engineering Geobacter to add molecular hooks to their pili, so that they snag certain molecules.

    Among the many advantages that living wires may have is that they’d be easier on the environment than the man-made kind. “It takes a lot of energy and nasty chemicals to make a lot of those electronic materials, and then none of them are biodegradable,” Dr. Lovley said.

    Bacteria, by contrast, can build wires from little more than sugar. And when it comes time to throw wires away, they become food for other microbes.

    Dr. Nielsen, who now directs the Center for Electromicrobiology at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, said that he is avoiding the technology rush for now. There is still too much to learn about the microbes themselves. “Once we find out what these wires are made from and how they work, a lot of potential applications may show up,” he said.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:04 pm on June 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NYT, Vulcanism om the Moon Io   

    From The New York Times: “This World Is a Simmering Hellscape. They’ve Been Watching Its Explosions.” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    June 26, 2019
    Joshua Sokol

    1
    A volcanic eruption on Jupiter’s moon Io, seen by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Credit NASA

    On hundreds of clear nights over the last five years, giant telescopes on a dormant, sacred volcano in Hawaii have trained their gaze across space toward active volcanoes on a simmering hellscape of a moon that orbits Jupiter. It’s called Io.

    2
    NASA’s Galileo spacecraft acquired its highest resolution images of Jupiter’s moon Io on 3 July 1999 during its closest pass to Io since orbit insertion in late 1995. This color mosaic uses the near-infrared, green and violet filters (slightly more than the visible range) of the spacecraft’s camera and approximates what the human eye would see. Most of Io’s surface has pastel colors, punctuated by black, brown, green, orange, and red units near the active volcanic centers. A false color version of the mosaic has been created to enhance the contrast of the color variations.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    “You just see so many volcanoes. It’s incredible,” said Katherine de Kleer, a planetary scientist at Caltech who has led the effort.

    Last week, Dr. de Kleer’s team released their full five-year record of Io’s volcanic activity in The Astronomical Journal. Their data show a pimple-ridden surface roiling with eruptions. Some hot spots glow continuously, while other areas flare up, then die back down.

    The researchers’ hope is that other planetary scientists may be able to glimpse or dig into the underlying rhythms of this world, the most volcanically active body in the solar system.

    Witnessing eruptions on a faraway moon used to require more of a trek. Forty years ago, the Voyager probes first spotted volcanoes on Io, a body that scientists expected would look dead and cratered. Instead, it turned out to be pockmarked with oozing hot spots.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    The Galileo spacecraft took another close look starting in the 1990s, and the Juno mission, currently at Jupiter, glanced at a volcanic plume sprouting from Io’s surface last December.

    NASA/Juno

    But these short visits didn’t let scientists study whether Io’s drumbeat of eruptions follows underlying patterns.

    Io’s volcanoes are thought to be fueled by tidal heating, a stretching-and-squeezing process whereby gravitational forces treat the inside of Io like a stress ball as the moon swings around Jupiter. That same process might be the main energy source driving geologic activity on many small moons and planets throughout the galaxy.

    Io’s eruptions are also thought to blast material into space, wafting plasma through the entire Jupiter system, where it swirls along magnetic field lines. Some ejecta from volcanoes even fall back on the surfaces of other moons like Europa, a prime candidate in the search for life.

    Hoping to understand them better, Earth-based astronomers have long tried to track where and when Io’s individual volcanoes flare up, then fade. One team including Julie Rathbun of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., has monitored Io’s brightest volcanoes over two decades. But Dr. de Kleer’s survey captures far more detail.

    “Her observations blow ours out of the water,” Dr. Rathbun says.

    One pattern has already emerged. The moon’s trailing hemisphere — if you think of Io as a car driving in a circle around Jupiter, it’s the back windshield — seems to host far more bright, temporary eruptions than the other side of the moon.

    This could be the result of Io’s crust differing from hemisphere to hemisphere, or because a single big eruption on the trailing hemisphere has triggered subsequent blasts. (Or, it could still be just a fluke in the data.)

    Another suggestive pattern comes from Loki Patera, Io’s single most powerful volcano and a gaping window to the interior of the moon.

    It brightens and fades about every 460 or 480 days, according to an analysis published by Dr. de Kleer and colleagues in the Geophysical Research Letters in May. If Loki Patera continues to wax and wane into the next few years as predicted, that time frame would match other cyclical variations in how Io orbits Jupiter — providing a suggestive link between changing tides exerted by Jupiter and the ebbs and flows of surface volcanoes.

    Back on Earth, Dr. Rathbun said, she and other planetary scientists are proposing a NASA probe that would study Io’s volcanism up close. But she stressed the value of long-term monitoring.

    “I really feel like we need to keep watching this. Five, ten years in the life of a volcano is nothing.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:37 pm on June 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 5 currently useful and operating telescopes to be removed from Mauna Kea, , , , , NYT, TMT work begins on Mauna Kea   

    From The New York Times: “In Hawaii, Construction to Begin on Disputed Telescope Project” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    June 20, 2019
    Dennis Overbye

    TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    Gov. David Ige of Hawaii announced on Thursday that a “notice to proceed” had been issued for construction of a giant, long-contested telescope on Mauna Kea, the volcano on the Big Island that 13 major telescopes already call home. Construction could start as soon as July.

    Such an announcement has been anxiously awaited both by astronomers and by Hawaiian cultural activists since last year, when Hawaii’s Supreme Court restored the telescope’s building permit. As part of the deal, five telescopes currently operating on Mauna Kea will be shut down and their sites restored to their original condition.

    “We are all stewards of Mauna Kea,” Governor Ige said. He pledged to respect the rights and cultural traditions of the Hawaiian people, including the freedom to speak out against the telescope.

    He asked that further debate happen away from the mountain, where steep roads and limited water, oxygen and medical services pose a safety risk. As he spoke, arguments were already breaking out on Twitter and Facebook.

    “This decision of the Hawaiian Supreme Court is the law of the land, and it should be respected,” he said.

    The announcement was another skirmish, surely not the last, for control of the volcano’s petrified lava slopes and the sky overhead. The Thirty Meter Telescope would be the largest in the Northern Hemisphere. Hawaiian activists have long opposed it, contending that decades of telescope-building on Mauna Kea have polluted the mountain. In 2014, protesters disrupted a groundbreaking ceremony and blocked work vehicles from accessing the mountain.

    Mauna Kea is considered “ceded land” held in trust for the Hawaiian people, and some Hawaiians have argued that the spate of telescope construction atop the mountain has interfered with cultural and religious practices.

    The Thirty Meter Telescope would be built by an international collaboration called the TMT International Observatory. The project, which involves the University of California and the California Institute of Technology as well as Japan, China, India and Canada, is expected to cost $2 billion.

    In December 2015, the state’s Supreme Court invalidated a previous construction permit, on the grounds that the opponents had been deprived of due process because a state board had granted the permit before the opponents could be heard in a contested case hearing. The court awarded a new permit last year.

    At the time, astronomers with the project said they would build the telescope in the Canary Islands if denied in Hawaii.

    On Wednesday night, in a precursor to Thursday’s announcement, state authorities dismantled an assortment of structures that had been constructed on Mauna Kea by protesters.

    The structures included a pair of shacks called “hales,” one located across from a visitor center halfway up the mountain, where protests had been staged, and another at the base of the mountain that activists were using as a checkpoint.

    Also dismantled were two small stone monuments, or “ahus” — one on the road leading to the telescope site, the other in the middle of the site, according to a spokesman for the TMT project. They were built only recently, without a permit, and so were deemed by the court to have no historical value.

    But Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader of the opposition, called the dismantling a “desecration” and “a hostile and racist act,” in an email. “They call these Religious structures illegal structures but our rights are constitutionally protected and the right specifically protected is our right to ‘continue’ our practice,” she wrote.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on April 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EHT reveals image of Messier 87, Katie Bouman-Harvard Smithsonian Observatory for Astrophysics-headed to Caltech, NYT,   

    From The New York Times: Women in STEM-“How Katie Bouman Accidentally Became the Face of the Black Hole Project” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    April 11, 2019
    Sarah Mervosh

    As the first-ever picture of a black hole was unveiled this week, another image began making its way around the internet: a photo of a young scientist, clasping her hands over her face and reacting with glee to an image of an orange ring of light, circling a deep, dark abyss.

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF 4.10.19

    It was a photo too good not to share. The scientist, Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow who contributed to the project, became an instant hero for women and girls in STEM, a welcome symbol in a world hungry for representation.

    Katie Bouman-Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Headed to Caltech.

    Public figures from Washington to Hollywood learned her name. And some advocates, familiar with how history can write over the contributions of women, quickly moved to make sure she received the recognition she deserved.

    Katie Bouman of Harvard Smithsonian Observatory for Astrophysics, headed to Caltech, with EHT hard drives from Messier 87

    In their eagerness to celebrate her, however, many nonscientists on social media overstated her role in what was a group effort by hundreds of people, creating an exaggerated impression as the photo was shared and reshared.

    As Dr. Bouman herself was quick to point out, she was by no means solely responsible for the discovery, which was a result of a worldwide collaboration among scientists who worked together to create the image from a network of radio antennas.

    The project, led by Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was the work of more than 200 researchers. About 40 of them were women, according to Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative.

    “There are women involved in every single step of this amazing project,” said Sara Issaoun, 24, a graduate student at Radboud University in the Netherlands who worked on the research. “As a woman in STEM myself, it’s good to have role models out there who young girls and young boys can look up to.”

    But Ms. Issaoun warned against a “lone-wolf success” narrative. “The diversity and group effort and the breadth of our collaboration, I think, is worth celebration,” she said.

    To capture the image of a black hole — a mysterious phenomenon long thought to be unseeable — the scientists used eight radio observatories across the globe to observe the galaxy on and off for 10 days in April 2017. Then they embarked on the painstaking effort to process enormous amounts of data and map it into an image.

    Dr. Bouman, who will soon become an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, indeed played a significant role in the imaging process, which involved researchers breaking up into teams to map the data and compare and test the images they created.

    While she led the development of an algorithm to take a picture of a black hole, an effort that was the subject of a TED Talk she gave in 2016, her colleagues said that technique was not ultimately used to create this particular image.

    After the burst of publicity spread her smiling face across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and news sites around the globe, Dr. Bouman did not initially respond to requests for comment Thursday. In a Facebook post, she said: “No one algorithm or person made this image. It required the amazing talent of a team of scientists from around the globe.”

    “It has been truly an honor,” she added, “and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you all.”

    In a text message late Thursday night, Dr. Bouman said that she had to turn her phone off because she was getting so many messages. “I’m so glad that everyone is as excited as we are and people are finding our story inspirational,’’ she wrote. “However, the spotlight should be on the team and no individual person. Focusing on one person like this helps no one, including me.”

    Other women on the project also celebrated this week as years of hard work were finally made public.

    “Honestly, it was a dream come true,” Sandra Bustamante, a telescope instrumentalist who worked on the project, said in an interview this week.

    Feryal Ozel, an astronomy and astrophysics professor at the University of Arizona who was on the science council for the project, first published a paper on black hole imaging in 2000. She called the unveiling “a sweet moment that’s been a long time in the making.”

    In an interview on Thursday, Dr. Ozel said that it was exciting to see people interested in the role of women in science, but she highlighted the contributions of other women and men. That included one of her male graduate students, who took multiple trips to the South Pole, where one of the telescopes was located.

    “I think giving credit to any single individual — whether this is a woman or man, young or old — harms the collaboration,” she said.

    Penn Sheppard, who works with Girls Inc., an organization that empowers young women and offers after-school programming to support girls learning in science, technology, engineering and math, said that Dr. Bouman’s story resonated in an industry in which women are underrepresented — and in a world in which their scientific contributions have historically gone unacknowledged.

    “It was an opportunity to see an accomplished woman play a significant role, and being acknowledged in that role,” she said. “That’s significant because girls and young boys are starting to see that women are scientists — not just you can be, but you are.”

    Ms. Issaoun said she also wanted to celebrate the success of a diverse collaboration of scientists, but she said she understood why the photo of Dr. Bouman went viral.

    “We love this photo too, because she looks so happy,” said Ms. Issaoun, who said she got shivers when she saw the image of a black hole. “I think her expression really captures how we all felt when we first saw it.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on April 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "When a Black Hole Finally Reveals Itself, , It Helps to Have Our Very Own Cosmic Reporter", , NYT   

    From The New York Times: “When a Black Hole Finally Reveals Itself, It Helps to Have Our Very Own Cosmic Reporter” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    April 12, 2019
    Aidan Gardiner

    Astronomers announced Wednesday that they had captured the first image of a black hole. The Times’s Dennis Overbye answers readers’ questions.

    2
    The first image of a black hole, from the galaxy Messier 87.Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via National Science Foundation

    1
    Dennis Overbye, cosmic reporter for The New York Times, answering readers’ questions at his desk.Credit Aidan Gardiner/The New York Times

    When radio waves from the depths of a nearby galaxy known as Messier 87 traveled some 55 million light-years to a constellation of telescopes on Earth, revealing to humanity the face of a black hole for the first time, people around the planet paused in wonder.

    Why does it look like a doughnut? How scary is it when two of these things smash into each other? And if light can’t escape a black hole, what are we even looking at?

    Our coverage Wednesday of the first ever image of a black hole, by our cosmic reporter Dennis Overbye, drew a huge response from our readers. Dennis graduated from M.I.T. with a physics degree and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2014 for his coverage for The New York Times of the race to find the Higgs boson. He sat down Thursday with his feet on his desk, beside a photo of the black hole, to answer some of our readers’ questions and respond to their feedback.

    Below are some of the exchanges that he had during an AMA on Reddit and in the comments on his article. They are edited for clarity.

    What does this image really tell us besides black holes are round?

    This is the first look into the central engine that generates the enormous energies put out by quasars, radio galaxies and other so-called active galactic nuclei. The action all starts down at the edge of oblivion, in a maelstrom of hot gas, gravity, magnetic fields and otherworldly pressures. It extends out beyond the far reaches of the galaxy, as jets of radio-wave energy moving at nearly the speed of light; these lobes of radio energy can accompany shock waves capable of blowing the gas out of galaxies or even entire clusters of them, preventing stars from forming. Through these mechanisms, black holes, blowing hot and cold, control the growth and structure of galaxies. It all starts in the accretion disk, the doughnut of doom.

    Why does it look like a “doughnut of doom” and not a sphere?

    When matter falls together into a black hole, or in almost any other situation, it has angular momentum, and takes on the shape of a flattened pancake spinning around the central attraction. Also, the black hole is probably spinning, pulling the disk around in the same direction. We are seeing the disk almost directly face-on, so it looks like a doughnut hole. (From edge-on it would look different.) Bent by gravity, light wraps around the hole on its way to our eyes, so the black hole magnifies and distorts the image of the accretion disk.

    Will we ever get a clearer image of this black hole?

    We will. The key is to observe black holes at shorter and shorter radio wavelengths, which allows more and more detail to be resolved. The latest images were recorded at a wavelength of 1.3 millimeters in the microwave band. The Event Horizon team hopes to go to shorter wavelengths in the future, and to use more antennas, including one in space, which would increase the size of their “virtual telescope” and also increase resolution.

    Do you feel that coverage of the breakthrough minimized the role of Katherine Bouman, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics?

    The issue of the unsung hero or heroine is a big problem, especially in Big Science, which the Event Horizon Telescope is surely part of.

    There were 207 people in the collaboration, according to one of the physicists I talked to that day. I am sure that many crucial contributions and rich anecdotes of behind-the-scenes science got missed.

    In time, these will come out in more thoughtful, longer narratives. On the day of the announcement there was a tsunami of information released at 9 a.m., and a rush to post stories as soon as possible, an unfortunate fact of the internet age.

    What does current science tell us is supposed to happen in the gravitational extremes of a black hole?

    That’s the biggie everybody wants to know. Whatever happens there, it probably is similar to what happened, maybe in reverse, in the Big Bang. Space, time, matter all go away, replaced by what? Some people think the answers might come from string theory, which unites gravity with quantum theory. But for now it remains an untestable, but mathematically elegant, speculation.

    What happens when two black holes collide?

    Such collisions have happened and been recorded by the LIGO gravitational wave observatory.


    They vibrated the space-time continuum like a drum and released as much energy in a fraction of a second as all the stars in the observable universe. The result in each case was an even bigger, blended black hole.

    But outside the event horizon, the gravitational field of a black hole is just like that of a star and it is no more dangerous. Black holes don’t go roaming around looking to swallow you. They only hurt if you touch them, in which case you won’t ever be able to let go. Otherwise they are like any other animal that you would just let go, and mind your own business.

    How is any of this relevant to our day-to-day lives?

    It can certainly provide context to your daily life, but it won’t move the markets. It will, or could, move your soul. However, Einstein, when he invented the sort of trampoline universe described by general relativity, did not dream that it would lead to pocket devices that keep time and tell you precisely where you are on Earth — that is to say, GPS. But they depend crucially on general relativity to tell you where you are. So who knows?

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 11:15 am on March 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Space Is Very Big. Some of Its New Explorers Will Be Tiny", , , , , NASA MarCO cubesats, , NYT   

    From The New York Times: “Space Is Very Big. Some of Its New Explorers Will Be Tiny” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    March 18, 2019
    Shannon Stirone

    The success of NASA’s MarCO mission means that so-called cubesats likely will travel to distant reaches of our solar system.

    NASA JPL MarCO cubesat replica

    Last year, two satellites the size of cereal boxes sped toward Mars as though they were on an invisible track in space. Officially called MarCO A and MarCO B, engineers at NASA had nicknamed them Wall-E and EVE, after the cartoon robots from the Pixar movie.

    They were just as endearing and vulnerable as their namesakes. The satellites, known as cubesats, were sent to watch over NASA’s larger InSight spacecraft as it attempted a perilous landing on the surface of Mars at the end of November.

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    Constellations of small satellites like the MarCOs now orbit Earth, used by scientists, private companies, high school students and even governments seeking low-budget eyes in the skies. But never before had a cubesat traveled 90 million miles into space.

    On Nov. 26, as the InSight lander touched down, its status was swiftly relayed back to Earth by the two trailing cubesats. The operation was a success, and the performance of the MarCO satellites may change the way missions operate, enabling cubesats to become deep space travelers in their own right.

    NASA engineers weren’t sure what to expect when the MarCO mission launched last May. “I think it’s opened up so many doors and kind of shattered expectations,” said Anne Marinan, a systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “The fact that we actually got as far as we did with both satellites working was huge.”

    About a month after dropping InSight onto Mars, NASA lost contact with the MarCOs. The agency may attempt to wake them up someday, but for now Wall-E and EVE are silently roaming the solar system, proof of a new space exploration technology that almost never got to the launchpad.

    Uncanceling the cubesat program

    The MarCO mission was canceled repeatedly. After all, the primary goal of NASA’s InSight mission was to land a stationary spacecraft on Mars and listen for marsquakes, giving scientists an improved picture of the red planet’s internal makeup.

    And multiple spacecraft orbiting Mars already relay information from its surface back to Earth. The cubesats wouldn’t play a direct role in InSight’s success or failure, so it was a challenge to persuade NASA to support a nonessential program using unproven technology.

    The MarCO team fought hard, prevailing at last with the argument that at a cost of only $18 million, the idea was worth taking a chance on. If these two tiny satellites worked well, it would not only mean that similar spacecraft could support big planetary missions in the future, but also that cubesats might carry instruments of their own.

    Proving the technology’s reach could stretch NASA’s funding, the engineers said, while creating opportunities for wider exploration of the solar system.

    As InSight safely touched down on Mars, the MarCOs were zipping past the planet, collecting readings from the landing and relaying them home more swiftly than the satellites currently orbiting Mars could.

    “We had some astonishing statistics,” said John Baker, manager of the SmallSat program at J.P.L. “We ended up getting 97 percent of all the InSight data back. And that’s because we had two small spacecraft at exactly the right position over the planet to receive the signals.”

    2
    A picture taken by the InSight lander on Mars’s surface in December.Credit NASA, via Associated Press

    3
    Mars, seen by the MarCO B cubesat, about 4,700 miles from the planet in November. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    3
    From left, John Baker, Anne Marinan and Andrew Klesh, engineers who led the MarCO mission at J.P.L. Credit Rozette Rago for The New York Times.

    Having custom cubesats overhead meant that NASA did not need to use other Martian satellites or worry about their alignment at the time of landing. If future missions tow along their own MarCOs, teams back on Earth may always know how their spacecraft are doing.

    The creativity of their design contributed to the cubesats’ success. Before they began constructing the MarCOs, the team made 3D models and used yarn to plan how best to run the guts and wiring inside. The MacGyver-like improvisation resulted in part from the program’s low budget.

    The cubesats run on solar power, and their propellant is fire extinguisher fluid. Lining the front of both spacecraft are eight pen-width nozzles that spray cold gas. The cameras onboard are off-the-shelf, and the radio is similar to that in an iPhone.

    But it wasn’t all easy. On their six-month journey to Mars, both cubesats occasionally lost contact with Earth. A couple of months after launch, MarCO B sprang a fuel leak and started spinning out of control. The team thought they’d lost it.

    “Management is slowly encroaching upon the room,” said Andrew Klesh, MarCO’s chief engineer, describing the scene. “We started to look at all the data. We broke apart the problem, and within about 24 hours we had MarCO B back under control.”

    Just a day before landing, MarCO B stopped communicating with Earth again. The cubesat came back online just in time. The InSight probe moved into the Martian landing phase that NASA officials know as “seven minutes of terror,” and both spacecraft spoke to Earth the entire time.

    The future is getting smaller

    NASA JPL Misson Control. Rozette Rago for The New York Times

    While inexpensive cubesats like the MarCOs may serve as real-time communication relays for future deep-space missions, NASA has more adventurous goals in mind, some of which were hinted at in last week’s budget proposals by the Trump administration.

    “When we have big spacecraft, you don’t want to necessarily take it into a very risky situation,” said Mr. Baker. “But you can take an inexpensive probe and send it down to search or to get up close to something and examine it.”

    Mr. Baker and others at J.P.L. are currently working on planetary cubesat missions. One proposal, nicknamed Cupid’s Arrow, envisions using the spacecraft to study the opaque atmosphere of Venus.

    In other proposals, the next iteration of interplanetary cubesats would be scouts deployed by larger spacecraft studying worlds that could be hospitable to life. They could be sent into the plumes of Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon, which ejects water vapor into space. Or cubesats could descend toward the surface of Europa, the ocean moon of Jupiter.

    “These spacecraft will allow us to act as the Star Trek probes to go down to the surface of challenging worlds where we might not be able to take the risk of a much larger mission,” said Dr. Klesh.

    When NASA’s next-generation rocket, the Space Launch System, heads for its first practice orbit around the moon (a launch which is facing delays), it will carry 13 cubesats, some as tests of technology and others as science experiments.

    NASA Space Launch System depiction

    One cubesat, for example, will be tasked with mapping sources of water on the moon for future human exploration. Another, called NEA Scout, is being designed by Dr. Marinan to monitor nearby asteroids that could pose potential hazards to our planet.

    Private companies are working on shrinking scientific instruments to be placed aboard the next generation of Earth-orbiting satellites. And as instruments become smaller, the options for singular scientific missions in deep space become greater, as does the potential for whole fleets of MarCO-like satellites.

    Toughening tiny travelers

    But much work remains before more cubesats can travel beyond the moon. The challenges that come with operating full-size planetary missions apply to small satellites, too.

    If you want to go to the Jovian system, you need heavy radiation shielding. If you want to go to Saturn, you need more efficient solar panels and ways to keep the tiny spacecraft warm.

    “We think we can actually send a small spacecraft all the way to Jupiter,” said Dr. Baker. “The problem is, I have to come up with a way of automating the onboard spacecraft so that it can fly itself to Jupiter or you only have to talk to it once a month. Or we create a way for it to only radio home when it needs help.”

    These are the kinds of engineering challenges the MarCO team worked to overcome with the journey to Mars.

    “It’s really opened a door of possibilities now that we have shown that this has actually worked,” said Dr. Marinan. “It’s not an impossible concept anymore”

    The engineers even managed to get around one of the tricker issues with how to collect data and talk to the cubesats. Typically, when a spacecraft calls home, it will spend several hours using NASA’s Deep Space Network, the very expensive phone system for calls beyond the moon.

    NASA Deep Space Network


    NASA Deep Space Network Madrid Spain


    NASA Deep Space Network dish, Goldstone, CA, USA


    NASA Canberra, AU, Deep Space Network

    But these long-distance conversations weren’t an option for the MarCOs. So the team at J.P.L. created new ways of monitoring the spacecraft that allowed them to collect in a one-hour period the data that would usually take eight hours.

    “MarCO is a herald of new things to come,” said Dr. Klesh. “Not necessarily better things, but different, and a new way of space exploration that will complement all the larger missions that we do.”

    As it passed Mars, MarCO B returned the first photo ever taken from a cubesat in deep space. It revealed the copper-colored entirety of Mars in the dark of space, and a small section of the spacecraft’s antenna.

    The angle of the photo was intentional — not only to show where we’ve been, but a hint at where these tiny wanderers could go next.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
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