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  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on September 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?", , , , NYT,   

    From The New York Times: “How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?” 

    From The New York Times

    Sept. 13, 2020
    Becky Ferreira

    The Nebra sky disk, an ancient ornament discovered near Nebra, Germany, which two scientists have proposed is 1,000 years younger than originally believed. Credit: Hildegard Burri-Bayer.

    The Nebra sky disk has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Uncovered by looters in 1999 and then recovered in a sting by archaeologists and law enforcement a few years later, the ancient bronze artifact, inlaid with gold decorations of the night sky, has provoked heated debates.

    Now, a pair of German archaeologists are calling into question the age and origin of the disk, adding another chapter to the complex saga of the enchanting object.

    The disk is currently judged to be about 3,600 years old, dating it to the Bronze Age. The looters who initially uncovered it said it was buried on a hilltop near the town of Nebra in Germany, next to weapons from the same era.

    Rupert Gebhard, director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, and Rüdiger Krause, a professor of early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt, now propose that the disk is a product of the Iron Age, which would make it about 1,000 years younger.

    The researchers also argue that the disk was most likely moved by looters to the Nebra site from another location, meaning it may not be associated with the other artifacts, or Nebra itself, according to a study published this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen.

    “We regard the disk as a single find, as a single artifact, because nothing fits to it in the surrounding area,” Dr. Krause said.

    The State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, which exhibits the Nebra sky disk, issued a statement [https://www.lda-lsa.de/aktuelles/meldung/datum/2020/09/03/himmelsscheibe_von_nebra_eisenzeitlich_eine_richtigstellung/ (English follows German)] calling the team’s conclusions “demonstrably incorrect” and “easily refuted.”

    “The biggest mistake in science is if you don’t refer to the whole data,” said Harald Meller, the museum’s director. “What these colleagues do is refer only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.”

    Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause raised doubts about several earlier assumptions concerning the disk.

    The artifact is thought to be affiliated with the Bronze Age items in part because soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study points to conflicting court documents about those assessments. Some of the weapons associated with the disk may not date to the Bronze Age, or come from the same deposit, according to Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause.

    The researchers suspect that the original looters may have moved the artifacts to the Nebra location to keep their site a secret from professional archaeologists.

    “They never tell you the place where they excavated because it is like a treasure box for them,” Dr. Gebhard said. “They just go back to the same place to get, and sell, new material.”

    Disputes about the authenticity of the Nebra sky disk are not uncommon. Its spectacular design has awed both experts and the public, but it has also provoked concerns [The Guardian] that it could be a forgery.

    “The problem here is that it’s such a one-off,” said Alison Sheridan, former president of the Prehistoric Society, who is not involved with either team. “That’s why people have said, Maybe it’s a fake.”

    Emilia Pásztor, an archaeologist at the Türr István museum in Hungary who has studied the disk, noted that its black market background amplifies these uncertainties.

    “The Nebra disk, due to the circumstances of the discovery,” she said, “belongs to those archaeological finds that can be debated forever until some very accurate absolute dating method can be found for metals.”

    Still, there is now a strong consensus that the Nebra sky disk is a bona fide ancient artifact.

    “It’s original. It’s not a fake,” Dr. Krause said of the disk. “What you can make out of it is a very interesting scientific discussion that shows the various different sides, or objectives, of how to judge this object, either in the Bronze or in the Iron Age.”

    To that end, Dr. Meller’s team intends to publish a rebuttal of the new study. Other archaeologists think they will have plenty to work with.

    “What’s been presented here certainly does not blow out of the water the argument that it’s Bronze Age,” Dr. Sheridan of the new study.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:53 am on May 6, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NYT, The new source named 3XMM J215022.4-055108   

    From The New York Times: “Deep in the Cosmic Forest, a Black Hole Goldilocks Might Like” 

    From The New York Times

    May 6, 2020
    Dennis Overbye

    A Hubble Space Telescope image showing the location of an intermediate-mass black hole, named 3XMM J215022.4-055108, indicated by the white circle. Credit: NASA, ESA and D. Lin/University of New Hampshire

    Seven hundred and forty million years ago, a star disappeared in a shriek of X-rays.

    In 2006 a pair of satellites, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mission (XMM-Newton, for short), detected that shriek as a faint spot of radiation coming from a far-off corner of the Milky Way.

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    ESA/XMM Newton

    To Ducheng Lin, an astronomer at the University of New Hampshire who hunts black holes, those signals were the trademark remains of a star that had been swallowed by a black hole: an arc of leftover fire, like drool on the lips of the ultimate cosmic maw.

    Such events tend to be perpetrated by supermassive black holes like the one that occupies the center of our own Milky Way. But this X-ray signal was not coming from the center of our or any other galaxy.

    Rather the X-rays, the fading Cheshire smile of a black hole, perhaps were coming from the edge of a disk-shaped galaxy about 740 million light years from Earth, in the direction of Aquarius but far beyond the stars that make up that constellation.

    That meant that Dr. Lin had every reason to suspect that he had hooked one of the rarest and most-sought creatures in the cosmic bestiary — an intermediate-mass black hole.

    The word “intermediate” might be a misnomer. If Dr. Lin was right, he (or, more to the point, that unlucky star) had stumbled upon an invisible sinkhole with the gravitational suction of 50,000 suns. He is the lead author of a paper, published in March in Astronomy and Astrophysics, that describes a cosmic ambulance chase.

    [related: The Astrophysical Journal Letters]

    Black holes are the unwelcome consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which explains gravity as the warping of space-time by mass and energy, much as a heavy sleeper sags a mattress. Too much mass in one place causes space-time to sag beyond its limit, trapping even light on a one-way tunnel to eternity.

    Einstein disliked the idea, but astronomers have discovered that the universe is littered with black holes. Many are the remains of massive stars that collapsed after burning through their thermonuclear trust funds. Sometimes they collide, rippling space-time and rattling antennas like the LIGO gravitational wave detectors.

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    These holes — the stellar survivors — tend to tip the scales at a few times the mass of the sun. At the other extreme of cosmic extremities are supermassive black holes — weighing in at millions of billions of solar masses — squatting in the centers of galaxies. Their belches produce the fireworks we call quasars.

    Nobody knows where these holes came from or how they get so big. Two years ago Australian astronomers discovered a black hole that was 20 billion times more massive than the sun, gorging itself back when the universe was only a couple billion years old.

    Astronomers for years have sought the “missing link” in this line of mythological-sounding monsters: black holes “only” thousands or hundreds of thousands of times more massive than the sun.

    “Intermediate mass black holes are indeed fascinating, and in some sense these are becoming the frontier of black hole studies,” Daniel Holz, a University of Chicago astrophysicist who was not part of Dr. Lin’s team, said in an email.

    “Why would the universe only make big and little black holes, and not ones in between? Goldilocks would not be pleased. What makes this particularly troubling for astronomers has to do with our origin stories.”

    There is a suggestive correlation between the mass of a galaxy and the mass of the black hole in its center: The bigger the galaxy, the bigger its hole. This has led astronomers to a rough theory of how the universe gets built in the dark: Small galaxies with their “small” holes accrete into bigger and bigger assemblages of stars, with ever-bigger black holes at the center of it all.

    Intermediate-mass black holes, weighing hundreds or tens of thousands of solar masses, could be expected to anchor the centers of smaller dwarf galaxies. But as such they would be hard to find.

    We only notice black holes when they feed. Stellar-size black holes call attention to themselves as they cannibalize their companions in double star systems. Their supergiant cousins feed at troughs at the centers of big galaxies. But intermediate black holes living in dwarf galaxies would normally find little to eat.

    “We could only find them when gas and dust fall onto them,” said Natalie Webb, an astronomer at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planetologie in Toulouse, France, a member of the XMM team and a co-author of the paper. “When this happens, they shine less brightly than the supermassive black holes, but they are usually just as far away (if not further), so they are usually too faint for our observatories.”

    In effect they are only visible when they swallow a star, an event that occurs only once every 10,000 years in any particular galaxy, Dr. Webb said.

    So Dr. Lin may have been lucky indeed. The new source, which his team named 3XMM J215022.4-055108, would be only the second good candidate known.

    The Hubble image around the field of J2150-0551. The green box of 1farcs2 × 1farcs2, with the zoomed inset, is centered around the source. Gal1 is the main host galaxy of the source, and near the source is a possible satellite galaxy Gal2, which might be connected with Gal1 by a tidal stream.Credit…Lin et al., Astronomy and Astrophysics, 2020.

    But there was a possibility that he had been unlucky, and merely detected an outburst on a dense neutron star left over from a supernova explosion in our own galaxy.

    Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the XMM for more observations, Dr. Lin and his team traced the X-ray emanations to a dense knot of stars about 80 light-years wide that was far past the Milky Way. It was on the outskirts of a faraway galaxy named Gal1.

    By coincidence, astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea had recorded an outburst of light from that same spot in 2005. That was perhaps the first fatal bite.

    CFHT Telescope, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA, at Maunakea, Hawaii, USA,4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    Moreover, the knot of stars resembled precisely what astronomers thought the core of a small galaxy would look like if it had been swallowed by bigger one. It fit the notion that galaxies are assembled by mergers.

    “This is good news, as it was thought that it is likely that intermediate-mass black holes are found in dwarf galaxies,” Dr. Webb said.

    Back in the day, the black hole had been the center of its own little dwarf galaxy. Now it was an empty-nester, most of its stars gone. And it was on the way to an eventual marriage with the bigger black hole at the center of Gal1.

    “Therefore, the new observations confirm the source as one of the best intermediate-mass black hole candidates,” Dr. Lin wrote in the recent paper.

    This is only one of a few good candidates for the missing link black holes. Another one, HLX-1, was discovered in 2009 — by many of the same astronomers — on the edge of a distant galaxy called ESO 243-49. It, too, is in a small cluster of stars that looks like the remains of a dwarf core, and weighs in at about 20,000 solar masses.

    In the case of HLX-1, however, the X-rays seem to be coming from an accretion disk, the doughnut of hot, doomed material swirling outside the edge of a black hole — material that is periodically ripped from a star orbiting the black hole.

    Dr. Webb, who was the lead discoverer of HLX-1, said, “The star keeps coming back to a similar position and a bit more mass is ripped off and falls onto the black hole,” she said. “We have now seen eight X-ray flares from HLX-1 and have observed it with many different types of telescope.”

    The main difference with the new missing link candidate, “is that our object is tearing a star apart, providing strong evidence that it is a massive black hole,” Dr. Lin said in a statement released by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

    Left unanswered is where such gigantic vortices of hungry nothing come from. The universe seems to come with some assembly required, and black holes are key, but astronomers are still struggling to put the parts list together.

    Astronomers have a pretty good sense of how “ordinary” black holes, three to 100 times more massive than the sun, result from the collapse and explosions of massive stars. But there has not been enough time in the history of the universe for such black holes to grow millions or billions of times bigger into the supermassive black holes we see today.

    “They must have formed from something else,” Dr. Webb said, namely, intermediate mass black holes. Such holes would be dragged together as their home galaxies coalesced into ever bigger galaxies.

    Dr. Lin agreed that it was “popular“ to believe that supermassive black holes can form from intermediate mass black holes, dragged together as their home galaxies collide and merge.

    Less certain is where these medium-class black holes — too massive to result from the collapse of stars as we know them today — came from. One possibility, Dr. Lin said, was that they were created by runaway mergers of massive stars in star clusters.

    Another idea, Dr. Webb said, is that they are left over from the first generation of stars in the universe. Astronomers have calculated that such stars, composed only of primordial hydrogen and helium fresh from the ovens of the Big Bang, could have grown much more massive than stars today and produced giant black holes capable of growing into the missing-link intermediate-mass black holes.

    Indeed, some astronomers theorize, hugely dense clouds of primordial gas or dark matter could have collapsed directly into black holes, bypassing the star stage altogether.

    Regardless, intermediate-mass black holes “are the missing link between stellar and supermassive black holes,” Dr. Holtz of Chicago said. “If we confidently detect this population, it will provide insights into how the universe makes all of its black holes.”

    If not, he added, “theorists will need to work even harder to explain how a baby universe makes monster black holes.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:46 pm on April 30, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Why the Big Bang Produced Something Rather than Nothing", , , , NYT, , ,   

    From The New York Times: “Why the Big Bang Produced Something Rather than Nothing” 

    From The New York Times

    Published April 15, 2020
    Updated April 27, 2020

    Dennis Overbye

    Scientists on Wednesday announced that they were perhaps one step closer to understanding why the universe contains something rather than nothing.

    The Super-Kamiokande Neutrino Observatory, located more than 3,000 feet below Mount Ikeno near the city of Hida, Japan.Credit…Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, University of Tokyo

    Part of the blame, or the glory, they say, may belong to the flimsiest, quirkiest and most elusive elements of nature: neutrinos.

    Standard Model of Particle Physics, Quantum Diaries

    These ghostly subatomic particles stream from the Big Bang, the sun, exploding stars and other cosmic catastrophes, flooding the universe and slipping through walls and our bodies by the billions every second, like moonlight through a screen door.

    Neutrinos are nature’s escape artists. Did they help us slip out of the Big Bang? Perhaps. Recent experiments in Japan have discovered a telltale anomaly in the behavior of neutrinos, and the results suggest that, amid the throes of creation and annihilation in the first moments of the universe, these particles could have tipped the balance between matter and its evil-twin opposite, antimatter.

    As a result, a universe that started out with a clean balance sheet — equal amounts of matter and antimatter — wound up with an excess of matter: stars, black holes, oceans and us.

    An international team of 500 physicists from 12 countries, known as the T2K Collaboration and led by Atsuko K. Ichikawa of Kyoto University, reported in Nature that they had measured a slight but telling difference between neutrinos and their opposites, antineutrinos.

    T2K map, T2K Experiment, Tokai to Kamioka, Japan

    Although the data is not yet convincing enough to constitute solid proof, physicists and cosmologists are encouraged that the T2K researchers are on the right track.

    “This is the first time we got an indication of the CP violation in neutrinos, never done before,” said Federico Sánchez, a physicist at the University of Geneva and a spokesman for the T2K collaboration, referring to the technical name for the discrepancy between neutrinos and antineutrinos. “Already this is a real landmark.”

    But Dr. Sánchez and others involved cautioned that it is too early to break out the champagne. He pointed out that a discrepancy like this was only one of several conditions that Andrei Sakharov, the Russian physicist and dissident winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, put forward in 1967 as a solution to the problem of the genesis of matter and its subsequent survival.

    Not all the conditions have been met yet. “This is just one of the ingredients,” Dr. Sánchez said. Nobody knows how much of a discrepancy is needed to solve the matter-antimatter problem. “But clearly this goes in the right direction,” he said.

    In a commentary in Nature, Silvia Pascoli of Durham University in England and Jessica Turner of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., called the measurement “undeniably exciting.”

    “These results could be the first indications of the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry in our universe,” they wrote.

    The Japan team estimated the statistical significance of their result as “3-sigma,” meaning that it had one chance in 1,000 of being a fluke. Those odds may sound good, but the standard in physics is 5-sigma, which would mean less than a one-in-a-million chance of being wrong.

    “If this is correct, then neutrinos are central to our existence,” said Michael Turner, a cosmologist now working for the Kavli Foundation and not part of the experiment. But, he added, “this is not the big discovery.”

    Joseph Lykken, deputy director for research at Fermilab, said he was cheered to see a major science result coming out during such an otherwise terrible time.

    “The T2K collaboration has worked really hard and done a great job of getting the most out of their experiment,” he said. “One of the biggest challenges of modern physics is to determine whether neutrinos are the reason that matter got an edge over antimatter in the early universe.”

    We are the beauty mark of the universe

    The Russian physicist Andreï Sakharov at home in Moscow in 1974.Credit…Christian Hirou/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

    In a perfect universe, we would not exist.

    According to the dictates of Einsteinian relativity and the baffling laws of quantum theory, equal numbers of particles and their opposites, antiparticles, should have been created in the Big Bang that set the cosmos in motion. But when matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate each other, producing pure energy. (The concept, among others, is what powers the engines of the Starship Enterprise.) Therefore, the universe should be empty of matter.

    That didn’t happen, quite. Of the original population of protons and electrons in the universe, roughly only one particle in a billion survived the first few seconds of creation. That was enough to populate the skies with stars, planets and us.

    In 1967 Dr. Sakharov laid out a prescription for how matter and antimatter could have survived their mutual destruction pact. One condition is that the laws of nature might not be as symmetrical as physicists like Einstein assumed.

    In a purely symmetrical universe, physics should work the same if all the particles changed their electrical charges from positive to negative or vice versa — and, likewise, if the coordinates of everything were swapped from left to right, as if in a mirror. Violating these conditions — called charge and parity invariance, C and P for short — would cause matter and antimatter to act differently.

    In 1957, Tsung-Dao Lee of Columbia University and Chen Ning Yang, then at Institute for Advanced Study, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for proposing something along these lines. They suggested that certain “weak interactions” might violate the parity rule, and experiments by Chien-Shiung Wu of Columbia (she was not awarded the prize) confirmed the theory. Nature, in some sense, is left-handed.

    In 1964, a group led by James Cronin and Val Fitch, working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, discovered that some particles called kaons violated both the charge and parity conditions, revealing a telltale difference between matter and antimatter. These scientists also won a Nobel.

    Hints of a discrepancy between matter and antimatter have since been found in the behavior of other particles called B mesons, in experiments at CERN and elsewhere.

    “In the larger picture, CP violation is a big deal,” Dr. Turner of the Kavli Foundation said. “It is why we are here!”

    Both kaons and B mesons are made of quarks, the same kinds of particles that make up protons and neutrons, the building blocks of ordinary matter. But so far there is not enough of a violation on the part of quarks, by a factor of a billion, to account for the existence of the universe today.

    Neutrinos could change that. “Many theorists believe that finding CP violation and studying its properties in the neutrino sector could be important for understanding one of the great cosmological mysteries,” said Guy Wilkinson, a physicist at Oxford who works on CERN’s LHCb experiment, which is devoted to the antimatter problem.

    CERN/LHCb detector

    Chief among those mysteries, he said: “Why didn’t all matter and antimatter annihilate in the Big Bang?”

    Help from the ghost side

    A bubble chamber showing muon neutrino traces, taken Jan. 16, 1978, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago.Credit…Fermilab/Science Source

    Neutrinos would seem to be the flimsiest excuse on which to base our existence — “the most tiny quantity of reality ever imagined by a human being,” a phrase ascribed to Frederick Reines, of the University of California, Irvine, who discovered neutrinos.

    They entered the world stage in 1930, when the theorist Wolfgang Pauli postulated their existence to explain the small amount of energy that goes missing when radioactive decays spit out an electron. Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist, gave them their name, “little neutral one,” referring to their lack of an electrical charge. In 1955 Dr. Reines discovered them emanating from a nuclear reactor.; he eventually won a Nobel Prize.

    Second to photons, which compose electromagnetic radiation, neutrinos are the most plentiful subatomic particles in the universe, famed for their ability to waft through ordinary matter like ghosts through a wall. They are so light that they have yet to be reliably weighed.

    But that is just the beginning of their ephemeral magic. In 1936, physicists discovered a heavier version of the electron, called a muon; this shattered their assumption that they knew all the elementary particles. “Who ordered that?” the theorist I.I. Rabi quipped. Further complicating the cosmic bookkeeping, the muon also came with its own associated neutrino, called the muon neutrino, discovered in 1962. That led to another Nobel.

    Another even heavier variation on the electron, called the tau, was discovered by Martin Perl and his collaborators in experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in the 1970s. Dr. Perl shared the Nobel in 1995 with Dr. Reines.

    SLAC National Accelerator Lab

    Physicists have since learned that every neutrino is a blend of three versions, each of which is paired with a different type of electron: the ordinary electron that powers our lights and devices; the muon, which is fatter; and, the tau, which is fatter still. Nobody really knows how these all fit together.

    Adding to the mystery, as neutrinos travel about on their ineffable trajectories, they oscillate between their different forms “like a cat turning into a dog,” Dr. Reines once said. That finding was also rewarded with a Nobel. An electron neutrino that sets out on a journey, perhaps from the center of the sun, can turn into a muon neutrino or a tau neutrino by the time it hits Earth.

    By the laws of symmetry, antineutrinos should behave the same way. But do they? Apparently not quite. And on that question may hang a tale of cosmic proportions.

    Test-driving neutrinos

    A mock-up of the more than 13,000 photomultiplier tubes inside the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector.Credit…Enrico Sacchetti/Science Source

    The T2K experiment, which stands for Tokai to Kamioka, is designed to take advantage of these neutrino oscillations as it looks for a discrepancy between matter and antimatter. Or in this case, between muon neutrinos and muon antineutrinos.

    Since 2014, beams of both particles have been generated at the J-PARC laboratory in Tokai, on the east coast of Japan, and sent 180 miles through the earth to Kamioka, in the mountains of western Japan.

    There they are caught (some of them, anyway) by the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector, a giant underground tank containing 50,000 tons of very pure water. The tank is lined with 13,000 photomultiplier tubes, which detect brief flashes of light when neutrinos speed through the tank.

    A predecessor to this tank made history on Feb. 23, 1987, when it detected 11 neutrinos streaming from a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy.

    The scientists running the T2K experiment alternate between sending muon neutrinos and muon antineutrinos — measuring them as they depart Tokai and then measuring them again on arrival in Kamioka, to see how many have changed into regular old electron neutrinos. If nature and neutrinos are playing by the same old-fashioned symmetrical rules, the same amount of change should appear in both beams.

    On Wednesday, in the abstract to a rather statistically dense paper, the authors concluded: “Our results indicate CP violation in leptons and our method enables sensitive searches for matter-antimatter asymmetry in neutrino oscillations using accelerator-produced neutrino beams.”

    Asked to summarize the result, Dr. Sánchez, a team spokesman, said, “In relative terms more neutrino muons going to neutrino electrons than antineutrino muons going to antineutrino electrons.”

    In other words, matter was winning. This was a step in the right direction but, Dr. Sánchez cautioned, not enough to guarantee victory in the struggle to understand our existence. The big thing, he said, is that the experiment has definitely shown that the neutrinos violate the CP symmetry. Whether they violate it enough is not yet known.

    “For a long time theorists have been discussing if CP violation in neutrinos would be enough,” Dr. Sánchez said. “The general agreement now is that it does not seem to be sufficient. But this is just modeling, and we might be wrong.”

    Workers prepared the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland for a shutdown period spanning two years in 2019.Credit…Maximilien Brice and Julien Marius Ordan/CERN, via Science Source

    More and larger experiments are in the works. Among them is the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, or DUNE, a collaboration between the U.S. and CERN.

    FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF, Lead, South Dakota, USA

    SURF DUNE LBNF Caverns at Sanford Lab

    FNAL DUNE Argon tank at SURF

    SURF-Sanford Underground Research Facility, Lead, South Dakota, USA

    In it, neutrinos will be beamed 800 miles from Fermilab in Illinois to a giant underground detector at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, located in an old gold mine in Lead, S.D., to study how the neutrinos oscillate.

    “The T2K/SuperK result does not remove the need for the future experiments,” Dr. Wilkinson of CERN said. “Rather, it encourages us that we are on the right track and to look forward to the conclusive results that we expect to get from these new projects.”

    He added, “What the Nature paper tells us is that existing experiments have more sensitivity than was previously thought.”

    Dr. Lykken, the deputy director of Fermilab, said, “Now we have a good hint that the DUNE experiment will be able to make a definitive discovery of CP violation relatively soon after it turns on later in this decade.”

    The present situation reminded him of the days a decade ago, when physicists were getting ready to turn on the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s world-beating $10 billion experiment. There were good hints in the data that the long sought Higgs boson, a quantum ghost of a particle that imbues other particles with mass, might be in reach. “Lo and behold those hints were proven correct at the L.H.C.,” Dr. Lykken said.
    Other neutrino experiments worthy of mention but skipped in this article:

    SNOLAB, a Canadian underground physics laboratory at a depth of 2 km in Vale’s Creighton nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario


    U Wisconsin ICECUBE neutrino detector at the South Pole

    IceCube neutrino detector interior

    Anteres Neutrino Telescope Underwater, a neutrino detector residing 2.5 km under the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Toulon, France

    INR RAS – Baksan Neutrino Observatory (BNO). The Underground Scintillation Telescope in Baksan Gorge at the Northern Caucasus
    (Kabarda-Balkar Republic)

    KATRIN experiment aims to measure the mass of the neutrino using a huge device called a spectrometer (interior shown)Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

    Scientists at Fermilab use the MINERvA to make measurements of neutrino interactions that can support the work of other neutrino experiments. Photo Reidar Hahn

    JUNO Neutrino detector, at Kaiping, Jiangmen in Southern China

    Hyper-Kamiokande, a neutrino physics laboratory to be located underground in the Mozumi Mine of the Kamioka Mining and Smelting Co. near the Kamioka section of the city of Hida in Gifu Prefecture, Japan.

    J-PARC Facility Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex , located in Tokai village, Ibaraki prefecture, on the east coast of Japan.

    RENO Experiment. a short baseline reactor neutrino oscillation experiment in South Korea

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 1:33 pm on March 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NYT, Searching for E.T.,   

    From The New York Times: “The Search for E.T. Goes on Hold, for Now” 

    From The New York Times

    March 23, 2020
    Dennis Overbye

    A popular screen saver takes a break while its inventors try to digest data that may yet be hiding news of extraterrestrials.

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    The seti@home screensaver, launched in May 1999, crunched data while your computer was idle.
    One of the great science fiction fantasies of all time — that you might discover aliens texting you from outer space on your computer — is about to take a breather.

    For the last 21 years ordinary people, armchair astronomers, citizen scientists, sitting at home or in their offices, were able to participate in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence — SETI — thanks to a screen saver called seti@home. Once installed, the program would periodically download data from the University of California, Berkeley, process it while the computer was idle, and then send it back.

    [Some of this is currently inaccurate. While seti@home began its life as a screen saver, it became a full fledged project running on BOINC software, under CPU control similar to other projects like Rosetta@home and World Community Grid. BOINC software has become the basis for all sorts of distributed computing science projects. Most current statistic of the size of the BOINC world is 24-hour average: 28.495 PetaFLOPS, which today would place BOINC at No. 5 in the TOP500 if distributed computing was included in the mix, which it is not.

    David Baker’s Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    I was a BOINC cruncher for about 6 years. Below is my record of achievement. As you can see, I was in the 99th percentile of all BOINC for all time.

    My BOINC

    On March 2, the ringleaders of the seti@home effort, a beleaguered and somewhat diminished band of Berkeley astronomers, announced on their website that they were taking a break. On March 31 the program will stop sending out data and go into “hibernation.” The team, they explained, needs time to digest its decades of findings.

    The suspension of new data mining removes yet another pleasant diversion that some of us — there were about 100,000 seti@home members at last count — could pursue during our social distancing prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Launched in May 1999, the program was one of the first great innovations of a then young internet, one of the first and most popular efforts to crowdsource difficult computations. It allowed you to imagine that you might one day receive a spam call or email from a real-estate agency on some asteroid, or a little green salesman trying to sell you black hole insurance.

    I was an early and enthusiastic adopter of seti@home. I spent many a slack moment — that is to say, most of my moments — staring at the shifting mountain range of graphics that appeared on my office screen, constantly rearranging themselves in mysterious ways. I wondered what, if anything, they were saying — if someday the news that we are not alone would have my computer to thank.

    Participating gave me the same feeling as being at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory during Voyager’s planetary encounters.


    In those wonderful days, images beamed back from the spacecraft of moons, rings and other baffling phenomena in the outer solar system appeared on screens in the reporters’ newsroom at the same time that scientists, huddled in their offices, saw them for the first time.

    We were united in our ignorance and our curiosity, wondering what the universe held in store for us that day.

    We still don’t know. But the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has become a much more hopeful endeavor since 1960 when Frank Drake, now a retired professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, pointed a radio telescope at two nearby stars in the hope of catching an interstellar broadcast.

    Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    He thought he heard something, and then he didn’t, which has been the story of the search ever since: thousands of stars, millions of radio frequencies, cosmic silence, the Great Silence.

    Billions of stars, trillions of frequencies to go.

    Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA, now the center piece of the GBO, Green Bank Observatory, being cut loose by the NSF

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in rural Pocahontas County, W.Va., one of two telescopes — the other the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico — whose observational data Seti@Home processed.Credit…Jim West/Alamy

    The logic of this endeavor is as unassailable as its prospects are rickety. Sentient beings anywhere in the galaxy, having reached a certain level of technological sophistication, would realize that the distances between stars are physically unbridgeable and would likely choose to communicate with radio waves.

    But joining the cosmic conversation, if there is such a thing, would require us humans on the listening end to know which of 100 billion stars to point our receivers at, and which frequency to tune in to. That’s an optimistic scenario. And, of course, we would have to be able to figure out what they are saying once we heard it.

    We now know that there are billions of other planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Thanks to efforts like NASA’s TESS satellite, we are beginning to discern some details of the closest ones. We know that they can look at us just as we are looking at them.

    These days, one of the most extensive searches is being made by Breakthrough Listen, a program underwritten by the billionaire Yuri Milner and his friends.

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    Newly added

    CfA/VERITAS, a major ground-based gamma-ray observatory with an array of four Čerenkov Telescopes for gamma-ray astronomy in the GeV – TeV energy range. Located at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory,Mount Hopkins, Arizona, US in AZ, USA, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

    The effort, headquartered at the University of California, Berkeley, uses a giant 100-meter-diameter radio dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, among others. Seti@home has been piggybacking on those telescopes, looking at whatever they are looking at.

    Once upon a time, almost 2 million computers were subscribed to the program, but it has since declined twentyfold. As the seti@home team explained in a recent conference call, they have been able to gauge the average lifetime of personal computers by how long they remain registered on the website — about three years.

    All this has not happened without a few ruffled feathers. Legend has it that some I.T. administrators have found their networks bogged down by too many people running the screen saver at once. Dan Werthimer, who holds the Watson and Marilyn Alberts SETI Chair at the University of California, Berkeley, said this was overblown. Once, he said, a school administrator got in trouble after downloading seti@home to all the computers in the school. But after 21 years, the team doesn’t yet know whether their screen saver recorded any alien signals.

    “Our resources have been limited,” Eric Korpela, the current director of the seti@home program, said.

    A couple of years into the program, the team went to the Arecibo radio telescope with a list of promising signals worth checking out, to no avail. Now there are 20 billion events — it would be presumptuous to call them “signals” — awaiting another look.

    In the meantime the team, never large, has shrunk to Dr. Werthimer, Dr. Korpela, David Anderson, the project’s founding director, and Jeff Cobb, who developed much of its software. In the recent phone call, they said they had been too busy keeping the computer servers running over the years to actually analyze all that data, and it is weighing on their minds. If they don’t take a break and do it now, they never will.

    “We’re getting older,” Dr. Korpela said. “Some of us are retiring.”

    “We haven’t published,” Dr. Werthimer said. “Our colleagues let us know about it every time we see them at scientific conferences.” He added, “We’ll keep working on results. One of them may be from E.T. We don’t know.” Noting that most of the sky had been seen many times, he said, “You might not be the only one who saw it.”

    Dr. Drake once speculated that SETI was most likely to tap into cosmic religious radio broadcasts of the sort that predominate if you happen to be driving cross country. Personally, I’m steeling myself for a birdlike voice warning me that the warranty on my antimatter drive is about to expire.

    Yearning for companionship is eternal. Even if it comes with cosmic spam.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 12:20 pm on March 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "When Coronavirus Closes Your Lab Can Science Go On?" Some yes but some no., NYT, The pandemic is forcing some parts of the scientific process to be put on the shelf.   

    From The New York Times: “When Coronavirus Closes Your Lab, Can Science Go On?” 

    From The New York Times

    March 23, 2020

    Plenty of work can be done from home, but the pandemic is forcing some parts of the scientific process to be put on the shelf.

    In recent weeks, coronavirus led to the shutdown of many university campuses and other institutions for research and learning in the United States and around the world.

    There’s always work that you can do from home. But parts of the scientific process can only be completed in the lab, or at another location where fieldwork or other hands-on research occurs. What’s a scientist to do when it’s time to put some of their experiments on the shelf?

    Here is a collection of stories from around the world on how professors, graduate students and others in the sciences are coping with the effects of coronavirus on their lives and work.

    Throwing away fruit flies

    Itai Cohen’s physics lab at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., uses genetically engineered fruit flies to study how insects fly. It turns out that the flapping of wings is an unstable motion that requires constant wing muscle adjustment.

    Usually, the flies live the usual life of a fly. But their nervous systems have been genetically booby-trapped. Shine a red light on some, and that will activate a neuron of interest; a green light will turn off a neuron.

    “Then all of a sudden, they can’t do what they were doing before, and we see what the difference is,” Dr. Cohen said. “Some of them fall out of the air. Some of them do back flips. Some of them start rolling.”

    Dr. Itai Cohen of Cornell University at home. Credit Courtney Asztalos for The New York Times.

    With the shutdown of research at Cornell, about a month’s worth of fly breeding will have to be thrown out. The researchers will not have to start from scratch later; they are storing more flies in refrigerators, although someone will have to go into the laboratory every two weeks to check on them and feed them.

    Until that work can resume, they have other work to do. “Hopefully, we’ll get more papers written during this time,” Dr. Cohen said. “That’s the optimistic view.”

    But research is not what he is most worried about. His wife is pregnant, her due date in late April, when the coronavirus pandemic may be peaking. “In a month, are all the beds in the maternity ward going to be commandeered?” he said.

    They are planning for her to give birth at home. — Kenneth Chang

    You can’t stain rabbit tissue at home

    Lauren Boller knew her lab at Vanderbilt University would shut down when an undergraduate student came back to Tennessee from spring break and tested positive for the coronavirus.

    Ms. Boller, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate, studies the properties of tissue-engineered bone constructs. She and her lab mates started taking steps to prepare for the shutdown. She froze her human stem cells, and discarded some experiments that would have otherwise taken two months to complete. Unfortunately, these were the last few experiments she needed to complete two papers she planned to submit for publication. Another ongoing experiment required her to stain rabbit tissues — something that couldn’t be done outside the lab.

    On Sunday, she went into the lab to retrieve data from a computer.

    The commandeered computer. Credit Lauren Boller

    Lauren Boller with the large computer, at bottom, she retrieved from Vanderbilt University. Credit via Lauren Boller

    “The lab has a software that I can’t download for free,” she said. It costs a few thousand dollars. “My lab manager was like, ‘No, no, no, just leave and go home and take the computer with you for the next few weeks/months.’”

    So Ms. Boller lugged the processing unit the half-mile to her parked car. She plans to spend the upcoming weeks analyzing the data she needs.

    Ms. Boller is eager to get back in the lab once the restrictions lift. Holding up the experiments delays not only her ability to submit her papers, but also her ability to graduate. “It’s always a fluid conversation in research about when something will be done, because there are always setbacks,” she said. She’ll have to work at an accelerated pace once the lab reopens. For now, she’s making the best of it and analyzing her data and starting to write. — Wudan Yan

    Glowing through a dark time

    Bioluminescent plankton studied in the lab of David Gruber, a biologist at City University of New York. Credit David Gruber.

    Luckily for the glowing plankton under his care, David Gruber, a marine biologist, lives only six blocks from his research lab.

    Even with City University of New York’s campuses shut down, Dr. Gruber said he will continue cultivating his subjects: about 100 vials of bioluminescent dinoflagellate. “We have to put everything on hold,” he said, “but we don’t want to leave the lab unattended for a month.”

    The two species of tiny plankton he’s studying light up Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays. To keep them healthy, he’ll put in fresh batches of artificial seawater every few days and make sure they stay on a strict cycle of 12-hour light and dark phases. He’ll also check on other biofluorescent organisms collected during diving expeditions in remote parts of the world, now stored in a freezer dialed to minus 176 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cultures crashed, the team would have to rebuild their stock from scratch.

    Dr. Gruber lives only six blocks from his lab. Credit Gabby Jones for The New York Times

    The researchers won’t be able to run new experiments any time soon, so the other four members of his group — who are trying to decipher the chemical symphony orchestrated by glowing marine algae, crustaceans and corals — scrambled Friday to gather material to analyze from home. “It was a frantic moment,” Dr. Gruber said. “We’ll try to squeeze what we can out of existing data. I think we have enough for six months of work — it just won’t be hands-on.”

    During the pandemic, he said, the research group’s expertise could also be tapped by public health officials in need of microbiologists. “We’d like to do anything we can to help,” Dr. Gruber said. — Marion Renault

    Putting evolution in the freezer

    On March 13, 2017: Rich makes the 10,000th transfer. Michigan State University

    Since 1988, a dozen colonies of E. coli bacteria — each its own island — have lived and changed for over 70,000 generations. Known as the Long Term Evolution Experiment, the project has offered a unique window into evolution in action.

    The colonies started out the same. But year after year, they have replicated faster and faster, each driven by different mutations.

    But on March 9, evolution was put into the freezer.

    Richard Lenski, who founded the experiment and runs it at Michigan State University, had kept an eye on the increasing number of coronavirus cases since January. “I think about the mathematics of populations all the time,” he said.

    Every day, a graduate student must eye-drop a little of each E. coli colony into a new flask, along with nutrients. But instead of transferring it to a new flask last Monday, the E. coli went into a freezer at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

    That will interrupt a recent focal point of the lab’s research. It started with a big surprise in 2003, when one colony evolved to eat citrate, a compound the other colonies couldn’t metabolize. But in recent months, the lab had been studying how some of the citrate-eaters were still getting sick from the compound and dying, even though it was allowing them to access more food. “We’re still trying to understand what’s going on there,” Dr. Lenski said.

    While the experiment is suspended, the colonies can get back to evolving about a day after they defrost. And after that?

    “The goal is to keep going as long as there are humans,” Dr. Lenski said. — Joshua Sokol

    The museum is now closed

    Kiersten Formoso had planned to spend her spring break at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles marveling at mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and ancient whales.

    Kiersten Formoso- Currently at USC
    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, September 2012 – May 2016

    “I was going to get a ladder and get really nice above-angle photographs,” said Ms. Formoso, a second-year graduate student studying vertebrate paleontology at the University of Southern California. She also wanted to measure limbs and other bones of long extinct marine mammals in the museum’s collections.

    Her plans are now frozen in time, like the fossilized specimens she was hoping to analyze.

    “I finally got to the point where I was ready to start my data collection,” she said, “and this virus made the door slam shut right in my face.”

    The museum has closed to nonessential employees, including research students like Ms. Formoso. That will prevent her from pursuing some of her work on how animals with ancestors who once lived on land evolved to swim in the water, like sea lions and manatees.

    It was to be the start of research she hoped to present at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in the fall. But the deadline for submissions is April 30, and she hopes the society will extend it.

    “If they don’t, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Ms. Formoso said. “I have no research to submit.” — Nicholas St. Fleur

    The work that goes on

    Administrators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ordered a “ramp down” of on-campus research last weekend that took effect last Friday.

    “There are grad students all over campus rushing to finish experiments,” said Maria T. Zuber, vice president for research. “We’re hoping to reduce density of people in the lab to 10 to 20 percent of what it is now.”

    There are a few exceptions — work directly related to the new coronavirus, maintenance of expensive equipment, such as microscopes that operate at cryogenic temperatures to peer at the smallest molecules, and long-term experiments for which important samples or large amounts of data would be lost if they were stopped.

    “If someone had an experiment going, they need to collect 18 months’ worth of data, and they’re a year into it, that would be a high priority for continuation so you don’t lose the year’s worth of data you have,” Dr. Zuber said. “That’s sort of the way we’re thinking of it.”

    She said there would also be consideration for graduate students close to finishing their doctoral research or postdoctoral researchers who are just about to enter the job market.

    And plenty of research can be sustained by scientists sitting at home instead of at the office.

    “A lot of the work that goes on on campus is computational and analytical and doesn’t use a lab where you have to be in there,” Dr. Zuber said. “For example, we take telescope observations from Hawaii.”

    She expects plenty of group meetings to continue via video conferencing, and researchers doing the busy work of modern science: writing papers and grant proposals.

    “M.I.T. doesn’t have the kind of people who are looking forward to a paid vacation,” Dr. Zuber said. “People want to do their work.” — Kenneth Chang

    Paychecks over projects

    Whenever Max Liboiron has to make decisions about the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, a plastic pollution monitoring lab she leads in North Labrador, Canada — she looks to three principles: “Equity, humility and anticolonial land relations,” she said. In more ordinary times, this means gathering seafood samples alongside local fishermen and holding community meetings about the lab’s findings.

    In the time of the coronavirus, it means keeping paychecks coming. Most members of the lab, which is affiliated with Memorial University, are undergraduates and paid by the hour. “If they don’t work, they don’t eat or pay their rent,” Dr. Liboiron said. “I had to find a way to keep the lab running on similar amounts of hours, doing totally different work.”

    Some of this will come from the NGOs and governments that usually hire the CLEAR lab to monitor particular areas, but are now glad to accept literature reviews and statistical analysis instead.

    None of it will involve testing samples for microplastics. “We will miss deadlines,” Dr. Liboiron said. She predicts some projects will never be completed, because the money that was supposed to be used for them will instead have been used for wages.

    But that’s how the lab is supposed to work, Dr. Liboiron said: “It’s an easy decision, even if it results in less science.” — Cara Giaimo

    When field work endangers the field

    The development of Bangalore into India’s technology hub has improved the standard of living for millions. But the effects of such urbanization on the city’s surrounding farming regions are less clear. That was a subject that Pramila Thapa, a graduate student studying the impacts of urbanization on agricultural systems at the Universities of Kassel and Göttingen, Germany, hoped to study.

    “Everything was set up for a large-scale social survey,” said Ms. Thapa’s adviser, Tobias Plieninger, a professor at Kassel and Göttingen. “We had developed a questionnaire, identified 60 villages and towns with a total of 1,200 potential respondents, recruited six interviewers.”

    But with the coronavirus pandemic, the Karnataka state government in India shut down universities and other aspects of public life. And the German institution’s partner in India had an additional concern about doing fieldwork at this time.

    “Some people were concerned that we could be made responsible for carrying the virus into the villages,” he said.

    Ms. Thapa’s project has been put on hold until the safety of her colleagues and the communities they study can be assured. The delay has been “very painful,” said Dr. Plieninger, especially for graduate students in his department whose projects will likely have to undergo substantial changes. — Annie Roth

    Can’t study firefighters during a crisis

    At Satchin Panda’s lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., the coronavirus outbreak is pulling away the very people his research might be able to help.

    Dr. Panda studies circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycles that rule our bodies. He’s especially interested in how to keep those rhythms strong, and how disruptions harm our health. For example, research has shown that shift workers whose daily lives are out of sync with the sun, such as nurses or firefighters, are more prone to certain illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

    Some researchers, including Dr. Panda, have studied intermittent fasting — limiting all of your calorie intake to eight to 12 hours out of every 24 — as a means of strengthening circadian rhythms and fighting some of those conditions.

    In an ongoing clinical trial, Dr. Panda and Pam Taub of the University of California, San Diego, have been teaching firefighters to eat in this way, and measuring whether it makes them healthier. But now that firefighters are being called away to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the emergency response to coronavirus, the study is in limbo.

    “Our study on firefighters was extremely exciting, and we are sad that we may not be able to complete it in time,” Dr. Panda said; the three-year grant for this project was only supposed to go through August. “At the same time, we understand that the community in danger needs emergency personnel more.” — Elizabeth Preston

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 4:01 pm on March 14, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "This Black Hole Blew a Hole in the Cosmos", , , , Black Hole WISEA J171227.81-232210.7, , NYT, The galaxy cluster Ophiuchus   

    From The New York Times: “This Black Hole Blew a Hole in the Cosmos” 

    From The New York Times

    March 6, 2020
    Dennis Overbye

    The galaxy cluster Ophiuchus was doing just fine until WISEA J171227.81-232210.7 — a black hole several billion times as massive as our sun — burped on it.

    An image combining X-ray (pink), radio (blue) and infrared (white) data, showing a black hole exploding in Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, the largest explosion ever recorded. The Ophiuchus galaxy is 390 million light-years away, and the image is 2.8 million light-years across.Credit…Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    If there were ever sentient beings in the Ophiuchus cluster, a faraway conglomeration of galaxies in the southern sky, they are long gone. A few hundred million years ago, a mighty cosmic storm swept through that region of space. Hot gas suffuses the cluster, but the storm blew a crater through it more than a million light-years wide, leaving just a near-vacuum, a nattering haze of ultrahot electrical particles.

    The culprit, astronomers suspect, was a gigantic outburst of energy from a supermassive black hole — the biggest explosion ever documented in the universe, according to Simona Giacintucci, a radio astronomer at the Naval Research Laboratory and the leader of the research team.

    In a statement issued by the lab on Feb. 27, Dr. Giacintucci compared the effects of the explosion to the eruption in 1980 that ripped the top from Mount St. Helens in Washington. Except that “you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row” into the crater punched out of the gas by this eruption, she said.

    The latest radio observations of the galaxy cluster were described in a paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

    The alleged outburst would rank as the biggest explosion yet discovered in the history of the universe: the energetic equivalent of one billion supernova explosions, unleashed in a torrent that probably lasted 100 million years. A hundred million years of bad space weather.

    That is extreme, but it may not be the worst scenario. Ophiuchus is relatively close to Earth, only about 390 million light-years away. If astronomers look farther afield, they might see evidence of equally outlandish events, said Norbert Werner, an astronomer at Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic and at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, whose observations with NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory helped lead to the discovery.

    A black hole with several billion times the mass of the sun presumably squats at the center of the Ophiuchus cluster, in a galaxy known only by a number, WISEA J171227.81-232210.7.

    Black holes are best known for their ability to swallow matter and energy, including light, and remove it from the universe forever. But they have another trait: They belch, and when a black hole belches, you don’t want to be anywhere nearby. Paradoxically, belching black holes are the brightest objects in the universe, producing the fireworks known as quasars and other violent phenomena.

    Galaxy clusters are the largest conglomerations of matter in the universe, containing the equivalent of trillions of suns. But most of that matter is in the form of intergalactic gas so hot that it radiates X-rays, which astronomers use to spot clusters far out in space. When this gas cools and sinks to the center of the galaxy, it provides the fuel for outbursts by which a supermassive black hole can affect realms of the cosmos far beyond the originating galaxy.

    On the way to disappearing, the gas swirls around the edge of the black hole like water around a drain. Pressures in this doughnut of doom squeeze powerful jets of particles and radiation out the top and bottom of the disk, fire-hosing the universe.

    In 2003, observations with the Chandra satellite found that regular pulsations of a giant black hole in a galaxy in the Perseus cluster of galaxies were generating waves across intergalactic space with the frequency of a B-flat 57 octaves below middle C. The black hole was “singing.” By blowing periodic bubbles in the gas around it, the black hole was preventing stars from forming. Other singing black holes were subsequently found.

    In 2016, a sharp discontinuity appeared in Chandra’s X-ray maps of the Ophiuchus cluster. Dr. Werner, then at Stanford, wondered if it represented the edge of another black hole bubble. He and his colleagues ultimately concluded that it was not, “because it would have to be the result of the most powerful outburst that we have ever seen in the universe,” he wrote in an email.

    But Dr. Giacintucci and her colleagues persisted. They examined data from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray satellite, which also revealed an “edge,” and from a pair of radio telescopes: the Murchison Widefield Array in Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India.

    ESA/XMM Newton

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope, an array of thirty telecopes, located near Pune in India

    The radio telescopes clinched the case. The region lacking X-rays on the other side of the “edge” was full of radio noise, exactly as expected if a beam of powerful high-energy particles had blasted that region clean.

    “The radio data fit inside the X-rays like a hand in a glove,” said Maxim Markevitch of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a member of Dr. Giacintucci’s team.

    Dr. Werner said that the black hole would have had to swallow about 270 million solar masses of material to have created such a big blast. The storm could have raged for 100 million years. It takes a long time to digest a small galaxy worth of suns.

    It’s all over now. The pool of cool gas feeding the black hole is exhausted or has sloshed over to another part of the Ophiuchus cluster. But even bigger storms may yet be found.

    “I’m glad that we were proven wrong by new evidence,” Dr. Werner said. “And I think that this result means that many more such large ‘craters’ are lurking in the universe. They are outside the well explored X-ray bright cluster cores, waiting for the next generation of instruments to discover them.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on March 14, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NYT, The future of Optical/Infrared astrononomy in the U.S.,   

    From The New York Times: “American Astronomy’s Future Goes on Trial in Washington” 

    From The New York Times

    March 13, 2020
    Dennis Overbye

    As competition with Europe heats up, astronomers pitch their dreams of giant telescopes astride the Earth.

    Construction underway of the Giant Magellan Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert of Chile.Credit…Giant Magellan Telescope


    Giant Magellan Telescope, 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    Recently, in what amounted to a kind of cosmic Supreme Court hearing, two giant telescope projects pleaded for their lives before a committee charged with charting the future of American astronomy.

    Either of the telescopes — the Thirty Meter Telescope, slated for the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile — would be roughly three times larger and 10 times more powerful than anything now on Earth. Working in concert, they could tackle deep questions about the cosmos.

    TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level, the only giant 30 meter class telescope for the Northern hemisphere

    But they are hundreds of millions of dollars short of the money needed to build them.

    Failure to build them, American astronomers say, would cede dominion over the skies to Europe, which is building its own behemoth observatory in Chile, and which will be available only to European researchers.

    ESO/E-ELT, 39 meter telescope to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

    The prospective builders fear an echo of a moment in the late 20th century when scientists in the United States lost ground in particle physics to European researchers, and never really recovered in producing path-making discoveries in that field.

    54 mile Superconducting Super Collider map, a particle accelerator complex under construction in the vicinity of Waxahachie, Texas, cancelled in 1993 by the U.S. Congress for having no immediate economic benefits.

    “Europe is utterly indifferent to what the U.S. does,” said Matt Mountain, in a rousing introduction to the hearing, which was held in a low-ceilinged, windowless conference room on the ground floor of a National Academy of Sciences building here. Dr. Mountain is president of American Universities for Research in Astronomy, which manages observatories for the government.

    To add to the potential pain, he reminded the gathering, the European telescope will be ready in the late 2020s, at least three years before any American counterpart. That timing will allow Europe to draw even more scientific benefit from intervening projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, slated to launch next year, and the Vera Rubin Observatory, a smaller telescope in Chile.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Vera C. Rubin Observatory Telescope currently under construction on the El Peñón peak at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    These will merely act as “finder-scopes” for the European Extremely Large Telescope, as it is called, Dr. Mountain noted, spotting phenomena that the larger telescope can then investigate and exploit.

    “They are laying down a gauntlet to the U.S. community,” he said. “How will the U.S. community respond?”

    The U.S. community was present in the form of a dozen astronomers who were sitting around an open square table that took up most of the conference room. They were the Panel on Optical and Infrared Observatories from the Ground, part of a larger effort known as the Decadal Survey, convened by the National Academy of Sciences every 10 years to set priorities for astronomy and give advice to the government on where to spend money.

    Tim Heckman, a tall Johns Hopkins astronomer with a shock of white hair who is chair of the panel, sat at one end of the table, leading the questioning.

    Kimo Leong, of Waianae, Hawaii, right, and other demonstrators against the Thirty Meter Telescope in Honolulu in July.Credit…Craig T. Kojima/Honolulu Star-Advertiser, via Associated Press

    Over the course of the afternoon, astronomers from the two telescope projects took turns filing into the room to pitch their telescope dreams in a flurry of slide presentations, followed by questions from the panelists.

    Dr. Mountain said that for the projects’ staffs, the hearings are like a lobster trap: “They have to get through this if they want to go to the next stage.”

    This was the first and last chance the astronomers would have to plead their cases in public; the remainder of the year will be given to closed-door meetings and peer-reviewed reports, concluding next year in final recommendations for space- and ground-based astronomy.

    A blessing by the academy of either or both telescope projects could open the door to money from the National Science Foundation, which has traditionally supported astronomy in the United States, but has yet to contribute to either endeavor.

    David Charbonneau, a young, bushy-bearded astronomer from Harvard who asked many of the toughest questions, described the discussion as collegial and frank. “The astronomers were as candid as they could be,” he said.

    Both telescopes are the dream products of cumbersome international collaborations anchored by U.S. universities or observatories. The Thirty Meter Telescope, named for the diameter of its primary light-gathering mirror, is borne of a joint effort of the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. The Giant Magellan would have an effective diameter of 25 meters; it is headquartered in Pasadena near the Carnegie Observatories, one of the founding members of the collaboration. By comparison, the upcoming European telescope is 39 meters in diameter, roughly the size of a basketball court.

    The Thirty Meter Telescope, TMT for short, is not popular among some Hawaiians. Upset about the exploitation and degradation of the mountain, they have blocked construction crews from accessing Mauna Kea. The collaboration, now known officially as the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory, has threatened to move to an alternate site in the Canary Islands. They haven’t done it yet: Mauna Kea is still a better site, they say.

    “We were asked by you if our software was going to be late,” Gary Sanders, project manager for the telescope, said to the panelists at one point. “It’s not late.”

    The telescope is “shovel ready, just not shovel accessible,” he added.

    The testimony provided a rare look at the financial and managerial details of these ambitious projects, revealing that they will be more expensive than advertised over the last 20 years of development and promotion. The Thirty Meter Telescope collaboration has long floated a cost estimate of $1.4 billion. The figures released Tuesday put the cost at about $2.4 billion. The latest price tag for the Giant Magellan is now about $2 billion.

    Under the deal being promoted by Dr. Mountain and his colleagues, about a third of the cost — $850 million for each telescope — would be provided by the National Science Foundation.

    As a result, the National Science Foundation would own one-third of the observing time on these telescopes, and would make it available to all American astronomers.

    “We want people to come together to tackle big questions,” said Patrick McCarthy, director of the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory in Tucson, Ariz. His institution, with Dr. Mountain’s, brokered a deal between the two giant projects, formerly bitter competitors, to join forces as they seek enough money to be born.

    In his own testimony, Tommaso Treu, an astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the TMT project, ticked off some of the questions that “the power of 2” — two telescopes — could address: Are we alone? What is the universe made of?

    Even if the European telescope beats the American telescopes to the sky, plenty of science remains to be done: “They’re not going to clean out astronomy in three years,” Dr. Treu said.

    When the discussion began, some panelists questioned whether there was enough money in the proposed operating budget to run the telescopes once they had been built. New telescopes usually need new instruments every few years as astronomers develop sharper and more ambitious ideas about what to do with the light they have so painstakingly collected from afar. Each new tool can cost $50 million or more.

    “In a platform for innovation, I don’t want to put down an empty plate,” Dr. Charbonneau said.

    Under questioning, the telescope collaborations also had to admit that they had not raised all the money needed to pay their own shares of the telescopes.

    “How do we make a plan that closes?” Dr. Heckmann asked.

    Dr. Charbonneau went on to address one of the elephants in the room: What if the Mauna Kea site was not feasible in the end, and the Thirty Meter observatory had to move to the Canary Islands? Were all the partners in the collaboration, which includes Canada, India, Japan [Japan has bowed out on the TMT] and China in addition to Caltech and the University of California, still committed?

    Dr. Sanders punted to Edward Stone, executive director of the Thirty Meter collaboration and an astrophysicist at Caltech. “The agreement is for Mauna Kea,” Dr. Stone said quietly. “Each member would have to agree to go to La Palma,” he said.

    He added, “We’re not there yet.” Some of the partners were already willing to move the telescope, he said, but others wanted to wait and see what happened in Hawaii.

    In January, a bill was introduced into both houses of Hawaii’s Legislature that would establish a reconciliation commission to mediate between protesters and the state. Its sponsors hope to “decouple” the dispute of Mauna Kea from broader conflicts over issues such as housing, education, health care and the preservation of Hawaiian culture, which linger from the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 and its territory’s subsequent annexation by the United States. According to Dr. Stone, “quiet conversations” were being held with state leaders, telescope opponents and astronomers.

    If the talks fail, Dr. Stone added, “I’m sure the partners will agree to go to La Palma.”

    The La Palma site is lower in altitude than Mauna Kea, making it less desirable for observing some types of cosmic infrared radiation, but Dr. Sanders declared that the science they needed could be done from both sites: “Mauna Kea is a better site, and we want to go there.”

    A final decision, Dr. Sanders added, was a few months away.

    Dr. Sanders told the panel that he once had been a project scientist for the Superconducting Super Collider, which was canceled by Congress in 1993 and superseded by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, which in 2012 discovered the long-sought Higgs boson. High-energy physics in the United States has never been the same.

    “We are definitely second rate,” he said. “I mourn the kinds of things we could have done.”

    The panelists adjourned without tipping their hands.

    “Thank you for your frank responses,” Dr. Heckman said in conclusion. “It’s a big challenge. We understand that.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 4:01 pm on February 17, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "UNTIL THE END OF TIME" Mind, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe By Brian Greene, , , , , , , Matter, NYT, ,   

    From The New York Times: “Just a Few Billion Years Left to Go” 

    From The New York Times

    Feb. 17, 2020
    Dennis Overbye

    Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe
    By Brian Greene

    Brian Greene’s main idea, his own grand, unified theory of human endeavor, is that we want to transcend death by attaching ourselves to something permanent that will outlast us. Credit Elena Seibert

    “In the fullness of time all that lives will die.” With this bleak truth Brian Greene, a physicist and mathematician at Columbia University, the author of best-selling books like The Elegant Universe and co-founder of the yearly New York celebration of science and art known as the World Science Festival, sets off in Until the End of Time on the ultimate journey, a meditation on how we go on doing what we do, why and how it will end badly, and why it matters anyway.

    For going on is what we do, building bridges, spaceships and families, composing great symphonies and other works of art, directing movies, and waging wars and presidential campaigns, even though not only are we going to die, but so is all life everywhere in the fullness of eternity, according to what science now thinks it knows about us and the universe.

    Until the End of Time is encyclopedic in its ambition and its erudition, often heartbreaking, stuffed with too many profundities that I wanted to quote, as well as potted descriptions of the theories of a galaxy of contemporary thinkers, from Chomsky to Hawking, and anecdotes from Greene’s own life — of which we should wish for more — that had me laughing.

    It is also occasionally afflicted with stretches of prose that seem as if eternity will come before you ever get through them, especially when Greene is discussing challenging topics like entropy. If I really understood entropy, I suspect I would be writing this review in an office at M.I.T., not an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

    Greene’s main idea, his own grand unified theory of human endeavor, expanding on the thoughts of people like Otto Rank, Jean-Paul Sartre and Oswald Spengler, is that we want to transcend death by attaching ourselves to something permanent that will outlast us: art, science, our families and so forth.

    For Greene this impulse has taken the form of a lifetime devotion to mathematics and physics, of the search for laws and truths that transcend time and place. “The enchantment of a mathematical proof might be that it stands forever,” he writes.

    If he dies, the work lives on as part of the body of science and knowledge. But as a cosmologist, he knows this is an illusion: “As our trek across time will make clear, life is likely transient, and all understanding that arose with its emergence will almost certainly dissolve with its conclusion. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is absolute.”

    Depressing. But in a Starbucks one day, he says, he had a realization, a sort of conversion to gratitude. Life and thought might occupy only a minute oasis in cosmic time, but, he writes, “If you take that in fully, envisioning a future bereft of stars and planets and things that think, your regard for our era can appreciate toward reverence.” Or maybe, he jokes, he was just losing his mind.

    This book, then, is a love letter to the ephemeral cosmic moment when everything is possible. Reading it is like riding an escalator up through a giant department store. On the lower floors you find things like time, energy, gravity and the Big Bang, and biology.

    The universe is expanding — why? So far the best explanation is that a virulent antigravitational force dubbed “inflation” — and strangely allowed by Einstein’s equations — briefly switched on during the first split trillionth of a second of time and sent everything flying, but astronomers still lack the smoking-gun proof.

    All living creatures that we know about on Earth share the same genetic tool kit, based on DNA. And we are all battery-operated, deriving energy from a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, ATP for short. In order to keep going, Greene tells us, each cell in your body consumes some 10 million of these molecules every second.

    Upward we go through the emporium of ideas to floors dedicated to consciousness, free will, language and religion. We don’t linger long on any floor. Greene is like one of those custom shopping consultants. He knows the wares, the ideas being pitched in every department. He drags in all the experts — from Proust to Hawking — and tries to be an honest broker about the answers to questions we can’t really answer.

    Why do humans tell stories? Was there an evolutionary advantage to be gained from taking time out from the hunt to sit around the campfire and gab — a bonding experience? Is the shared imagination a way to practice navigating unknown territory, or a guide for living your life?

    Can physics explain not just how the mind — neurons and electrochemical impulses — works but also explain the feeling of having a mind, that is to say consciousness? Greene is cautiously hopeful it can. “That the mind can do all it does is extraordinary. That the mind may accomplish all it does with nothing more than the kinds of ingredients and types of forces holding together my coffee cup, makes it more extraordinary still. Consciousness would be demystified without being diminished.”

    But he’s not always sure. Admitting that the neurophysical facts shed only “a monochrome light” on human experience, he extols art as another dimension. “We gain access to worlds otherwise uncharted,” he says. “As Proust emphasized, this is to be celebrated. Only through art, he noted, can we enter the secret universe of another, the only journey in which we truly ‘fly from star to star,’ a journey that cannot be navigated by ‘direct and conscious methods.’”

    Two main themes run through this story. The first is natural selection, the endless inventive process of evolution that keeps molding organisms into more and more complex arrangements and codependencies. The second is what Greene calls the “entropic-two step.” This refers to the physical property known as entropy. In thermodynamics it denotes the amount of heat — wasted energy — inevitably produced by a steam engine, for example as it goes through its cycle of expansion and contraction. It’s the reason you can’t build a perpetual motion machine. In modern physics it’s a measure of disorder and information. Entropy is a big concept in information theory and black holes, as well as in biology.

    We are all little steam engines, apparently, and everything we accomplish has a cost. That is why your exhaust pipe gets too hot to touch, or why your desk tends to get more cluttered by the end of the day.

    In the end, Greene says, entropy will get us all, and everything else in the universe, tearing down what evolution has built. “The entropic two-step and the evolutionary forces of selection enrich the pathway from order to disorder with prodigious structure, but whether stars or black holes, planets or people, molecules or atoms, things ultimately fall apart,” he writes.

    In a virtuosic final section Greene describes how this will work by inviting us to climb an allegorical Empire State Building; on each floor the universe is 10 times older. If the first floor is Year 10, we now are just above the 10th (10 billion years). By the time we get to the 11th floor the sun will be gone and with it probably any life on Earth. As we climb higher we are exposed to expanses of time that make the current age of the universe look like less than the blink of an eye.

    Eventually the Milky Way galaxy will fall into a black hole. On about the 38th floor of the future, when the universe is 100 trillion trillion trillion years old, protons, the building blocks of atoms, will dissolve out from under us, leaving space populated by a thin haze of lightweight electrons and a spittle of radiation.

    In the far, far, far, far future, even holding a thought will require more energy than will be available in the vastly dissipated universe. It will be an empty and cold place that doesn’t remember us. “Nabokov’s description of a human life as a ‘brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness’ may apply to the phenomenon of life itself,” Greene writes.

    In the end it is up to us to make of this what we will. We can contemplate eternity, Greene concludes, “and even though we can reach for eternity, apparently we cannot touch eternity.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 2:38 pm on February 16, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The End of Australia as We Know It", 57 percent of Australians have been directly affected by the bush fires or their smoke., , “We have seen the unfolding wings of climate change.”, “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future- a topic for debate — it is here.”, Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity., , NYT, Since the fires started tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche., Summer is feared., The conservative government is still playing down the role of climate change despite polls showing public anger hitting feverish levels., The economy needs to change- not just moving away from fossil fuels which are a major export but also from thirsty crops like rice and cotton., With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work; leisure; and life will politics follow?   

    From The New York Times: “The End of Australia as We Know It” 

    From The New York Times

    Feb. 15, 2020
    Damien Cave
    Photographs by Matthew Abbott

    Firefighters on the outskirts of Bredbo, New South Wales, Australia, on Feb. 1.

    What many of us have witnessed this fire season feels alive and monstrous. With climate change forcing a relaxed country to stumble toward new ways of work, leisure and life, will politics follow?

    In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia are not just destroying lives, or turning forests as large as nations into ashen moonscapes.

    They are also forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life. When summer is feared. When air filters hum in homes that are bunkers, with kids kept indoors. When birdsong and the rustle of marsupials in the bush give way to an eerie, smoky silence.

    “I am standing here a traveler from a new reality, a burning Australia,” Lynette Wallworth, an Australian filmmaker, told a crowd of international executives and politicians in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “What was feared and what was warned is no longer in our future, a topic for debate — it is here.”

    “We have seen,” she added, “the unfolding wings of climate change.”

    Like the fires, it’s a metaphor that lingers. What many of us have witnessed this fire season does feel alive, like a monstrous gathering force threatening to devour what we hold most dear on a continent that will grow only hotter, drier and more flammable as global temperatures rise.

    It’s also a hint of what may be coming to a town, city or country near you.

    And in a land usually associated with relaxed optimism, anxiety and trauma have taken hold. A recent Australia Institute survey found that 57 percent of Australians have been directly affected by the bush fires or their smoke. With officials in New South Wales announcing Thursday that heavy rain had helped them finally extinguish or control all the state’s fires that have raged this Australian summer, the country seems to be reflecting and wondering what comes next.

    Burned bush land on the outskirts of Bredbo, Australia, this month.

    Politics have been a focal point — one of frustration for most Australians. The conservative government is still playing down the role of climate change, despite polls showing public anger hitting feverish levels. And yet what’s emerging alongside public protest may prove more potent.

    In interviews all over the fire zone since September, it’s been clear that Australians are reconsidering far more than energy and emissions. They are stumbling toward new ways of living: Housing, holiday travel, work, leisure, food and water are all being reconsidered.

    “If there’s not a major shift that comes out of this, we’re doomed,” said Robyn Eckersley, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne who has written extensively about environmental policy around the world. “It does change everything — or it should.”

    Professor Eckersley is one of many for whom climate change has shifted from the distant and theoretical to the personal and emotional.

    Before the fires peaked last month, she and I had often spoken in dry terms about Australia and climate change policy. This last time, as she sat in a vacation home southwest of Melbourne, where smoky haze closed a nearby beach, she told me about a friend driving south from Brisbane, “by all these towns and farms he couldn’t imagine bouncing back.”

    Australia, she argued, must accept that the most inhabited parts of the country can no longer be trusted to stay temperate — and, she added, “that means massive changes in what we do and the rhythm of our work and play.”

    More specifically, she said, the economy needs to change, not just moving away from fossil fuels, a major export, but also from thirsty crops like rice and cotton.

    Building regulations will probably stiffen too, she said. Already, there are signs of growing interest in designs that offer protections from bush fires, and regulators are looking at whether commercial properties need to be made more fireproof as well.

    The biggest shifts, however, may not be structural so much as cultural.

    Climate change threatens heavy pillars of Australian identity: a life lived outdoors, an international role where the country “punches above its weight,” and an emphasis on egalitarianism that, according to some historians, is rooted in Australia’s settlement by convicts.

    Since the fires started, tens of millions of acres have been incinerated in areas that are deeply connected to the national psyche. If you’re American, imagine Cape Cod, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Sierra Nevadas and California’s Pacific Coast, all rolled into one — and burned.

    It’s “a place of childhood vacations and dreams,” as one of Australia’s great novelists, Thomas Keneally, recently wrote [The Guardian].

    For months on end, driving through these areas, where tourism, agriculture, retirement and bohemian living all meet for flat whites at the local cafe, has meant checking reports for closed roads and wondering if the thick clouds of smoke in the distance mean immediate danger.

    There’s an absurdity even to the signs. The ones that aren’t melted warn of wet roads. Just beyond them are trees black as coal and koalas and kangaroos robbed of life.

    The fear of ferocious nature can be tough to shake. Fires are still burning south and west of New South Wales, and to many, the recent rain near Sydney felt as biblical as the infernos the storms put out — some areas got more than two feet, flooding rivers and parched earth hardened by years of drought.

    Last month in Cobargo, a dairy and horse town six hours’ drive from Sydney, I stood silently waiting for the start of an outdoor funeral for a father and son who had died in the fires a few weeks earlier. When the wind kicked up, everyone near me snapped their heads toward where a fire burned less than a mile away.

    “It just hasn’t stopped,” said an older man in a cowboy hat.

    No other sentiment has better captured Australia’s mood.

    That same day, in the coastal town of Eden, government officials welcomed a cruise ship, declaring the area safe for tourists. A week later, another burst of fire turned the sky over Eden blood red, forcing residents nearby to evacuate.

    It’s no wonder that all across the area, known as the South Coast, the streets in summer have looked closer to the quiet found in winter. Perhaps, some now say, that’s how it should be.

    “We should no longer schedule our summer holidays over the Christmas season,” Professor Eckersley said. “Maybe they should be in March or April.”

    “Certainly, we should rethink when and whether we go to all the places in the summer where we might be trapped,” she added.

    David Bowman, a climate scientist in Tasmania who wrote an article [ABC.AU News] calling for the end of the summer school holiday, which went viral, said Australia’s experience could help the world understand just how much climate change can reorder the way we live.

    “You can’t pretend that this is sustainable,” he said. “If that’s true, you’re going to have to do something different.”

    Smoke may be more of a catalyst than flame. For much of the summer, a fog of soot has smothered Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. In Sydney alone, there were 81 days of hazardous, very poor or poor air quality last year, more than the previous 10 years combined. And until the recent rains, the smell of smoke often returned.

    Mike Cannon-Brookes, Australia’s most famous tech billionaire, called it part of a broader awakening.

    “It’s bringing home the viscerality of what science and scientists have been telling us is going to happen,” he said.

    There’s unity in that, as so many have seen climate change up close and personal. But there’s also inequality. The air filters selling out at hardware stores last month cost close to $1,000 each. In December, I heard surfers in the waves at Bondi Beach deciding to get out early to avoid breathing in too much smoke and ash — but farther west, where working-class immigrants cluster, I met a bicycle delivery driver who said he could work only a couple of hours before feeling sick.

    Mr. Cannon-Brookes said Australia could seize the moment and become a leader in climate innovation. Ms. Wallworth, the filmmaker, echoed that sentiment: What if the country’s leaders did not run from the problem of climate change, but instead harnessed the country’s desire to act?

    “If only our leaders would call on us and say, ‘Look, this is a turning point moment for us; the natural world in Australia, that’s our cathedral, and it’s burning — our land and the animals we love are being killed,’” she said.

    “If they called on us to make radical change, the nation would do it.”

    In The Lucky Country, the 1964 book of essays by Donald Horne that is often described as a wake-up call to an unimaginative nation, Australians are deemed tolerant of mediocrity, but “adaptable when a way is shown.”

    One afternoon, I traveled to the Sutherland Shire, near where Prime Minister Scott Morrison lives, with Horne’s comments on my mind.

    Near a bus stop, I met Bob Gallagher, 71, a retired state employee with thick white hair. He felt strongly that the criticism of Mr. Morrison for not doing enough about climate change was unfair.

    “The first thing the government needs to do is run the economy,” Mr. Gallagher said. “I just don’t understand what these climate change people want.”

    I asked him to imagine a version of Ms. Wallworth’s dream — an Australia with a prime minister who shouted to the world: “What we all love, this unique country, is being destroyed by inaction. We’ll punch above our weight, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help.”

    Mr. Gallagher listened without interrupting. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “I could support that.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 12:15 pm on February 9, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Antarctica Sets Record High Temperature: 64.9 Degrees", Antarctica's ice sheet which is nearly three miles thick contains 90 percent of the world’s fresh water., “This is the foreshadowing of what is to come” a researcher said., Last month was the fifth-warmest January in the United States in 126 years of record-keeping according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration., NYT, The temperature at Esperanza where it is summer was comparable to the weather in Los Angeles and Huntsville Ala. where the high temperatures were 64 on Thursday.   

    From The New York Times: “Antarctica Sets Record High Temperature: 64.9 Degrees” 

    From The New York Times

    Feb. 8, 2020
    Derrick Bryson Taylor

    “This is the foreshadowing of what is to come,” a researcher said. “It’s exactly in line of what we’ve been seeing for decades.”

    The previous record high temperature for Esperanza, the Argentinian research station, was 63 degrees, which was set in March 2015.Credit…Vanderlei Almeida/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Antarctica, the coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth, set a record high temperature on Thursday, underscoring the global warming trend, researchers said.

    Esperanza, Argentina’s research station on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, reached 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18.2 degrees Celsius, breaking the previous record of 63.5 degrees set on March 24, 2015, according to Argentina’s National Meteorological Service. The station has been recording temperatures since 1961.

    The temperature at Esperanza, where it is summer, was comparable to the weather in Los Angeles and Huntsville, Ala., where the high temperatures were 64 on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

    The Weather and Climate Extremes Archive, a committee of the World Meteorological Organization, will verify the temperature, the organization said in a news release.

    “Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record,” Randall Cerveny, an organization official, said.

    The record high appears to be associated with a regional “foehn,” described as a rapid warming of air coming down a slope or mountain, Mr. Cerveny said.

    Temperatures on the continent range on average from 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) on the Antarctic coast, to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius) at higher elevations of the interior, the meteorological organization said.

    Its ice sheet, which is nearly three miles thick, contains 90 percent of the world’s fresh water.

    The Antarctic Peninsula, the northwest tip near South America, is among the fastest warming regions of the planet, the meteorological organization said. Antarctica is about the size of the United States and Mexico combined, according to NASA.

    The high temperature is in keeping with the earth’s overall warming trend, which is in large part caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.

    Experts say that warming trend is affecting other parts of Antarctica, including the large West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

    “I think of the warming of the atmosphere as like preheating an oven and the polar ice sheets are like a frozen lasagna that you put into the oven and now even the frozen lasagna is starting to defrost at high polar latitude,” Maureen Raymo, a research professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, said on Saturday.

    When the ice sheets melt, the water has nowhere to go but into the ocean and will affect shorelines around the world, Professor Raymo said.

    “I think this is the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” she said. “This is the foreshadowing of what is to come. It’s exactly in line of what we’ve been seeing for decades” — that air temperature records are increasingly broken.

    Last month was the fifth-warmest January in the United States in 126 years of record-keeping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. The lower 48 states had an average temperature of 35.5 degrees and they all saw above- to much-above-average temperatures last month, it said.

    The last decade was the hottest on record and 2019 was the second-warmest year, according to researchers.

    Global average surface temperatures last year were nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) higher than the average from the middle of the last century, caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels.

    See the full article here .


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