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  • richardmitnick 2:57 pm on August 13, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Massachusetts Start-Up Hopes to Move a Step Closer to Commercial Fusion", Commonwealth Fusion Systems in Cambridge Mass (US), , Joint European Torus tokamak generator based at the Culham Center for Fusion Energy at Culham Science Centre Oxfordshire England., , The New York Times   

    From Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) via The New York Times : “Massachusetts Start-Up Hopes to Move a Step Closer to Commercial Fusion” 

    MIT News

    From Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)


    The New York Times

    John Markoff

    Chasing a Breakthrough in Fusion

    Bob Mumgaard, a plasma physicist, is chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion Systems in Cambridge, Mass (US). Credit: Tony Luong for The New York Times

    A start-up founded by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says it is nearing a technological milestone that could take the world a step closer to fusion energy, which has eluded scientists for decades.

    Researchers at M.I.T.’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and engineers at the company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, have begun testing an extremely powerful magnet that is needed to generate immense heat that can then be converted to electricity. It would open the gates toward what they believe could eventually be a fusion reactor.

    Fusion energy has long been held out as one of the most significant technologies needed to combat the effects of climate change because it could generate an abundance of inexpensive clean energy.

    But there have been no commercial payoffs for fusion research, despite decades of investment and often overly aggressive promises. While there is a long history of international experimentation, scientists have not yet created fusion systems that generate more power than they consume.

    Like traditional nuclear fission power, which splits atoms, fusion energy would not consume fossil fuel and would not produce greenhouse gases. It would be more desirable than nuclear fission because its fuel, usually hydrogen isotopes, is more plentiful than the uranium used by current nuclear plants, and because fusion plants would generate less-dangerous and fewer radioactive wastes.

    Though a fusion energy breakthrough remains elusive, it is still held out as one of the possible high-technology paths to ending reliance on fossil fuels. And some researchers believe that fusion research could finally take a leap forward this decade.

    More than two dozen private ventures in the United States, Europe, China and Australia and government-funded consortia are now investing heavily in efforts to build commercial fusion reactors. Total investment by people such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos is edging toward $2 billion.

    A testing machine used in the creation of powerful magnets that Commonwealth hopes will lead to a successful fusion reactor. Credit: Tony Luong for The New York Times.

    The federal government is also spending about $600 million each year on fusion research, and there is a proposed amendment to add $1 billion to the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, said Andrew Holland, chief executive of the Fusion Industry Association.

    Some of the start-ups and consortia are building powerful lasers to generate fusion reactions, and others are exploring new kinds of fuels. Most of them are professing a similar vision — that they will be able to prove that their technology can produce competitively priced electricity this decade and build commercial plants to feed electricity into power grids soon after 2030.

    Commonwealth’s new magnet, which will be one of the world’s most powerful, will be a crucial component in a compact nuclear fusion reactor known as a Tokamak, a design that uses magnetic forces to compress plasma until it is hotter than the sun. The reactor looks like a doughnut-shaped jar surrounded by magnets. Soviet physicists originally envisioned it in the 1950s.

    Commonwealth Fusion executives claim that the magnet is a significant technology breakthrough that will make Tokamak designs commercially viable for the first time. They say they are not yet ready to test their reactor prototype, but the researchers are finishing the magnet and hope it will be workable by 2025.

    The scientists in Massachusetts hope that this month they will demonstrate a magnetic field that is almost twice the strength of the magnets planned for use by a global consortium of the European Union and six other countries that is assembling a reactor in Cadarache, France.

    The consortium hopes to begin generating electricity at the site in 2035.

    “If you go to a much higher magnetic field, you can go to a much smaller size,” said Bob Mumgaard, a plasma physicist who is chief executive of Commonwealth. He said that if it was possible to build a device just one-fiftieth the size of the planned reactor in France — which will be roughly as big as a soccer field — it would be able to generate almost as much power.

    High-temperature superconductor tape is wound around a bottle that is used to contain the fusion reaction. Credit: Tony Luong for The New York Times.

    Credit: Tony Luong for The New York Times.

    Commonwealth’s magnet will be one of 20 used to create a doughnut-shaped vessel in a space roughly the size of a tennis court. This year, Commonwealth established a 47-acre site in Devens, Mass., where it will build both its prototype reactor and a factory for the magnets. The magnets are made by depositing a thin film of exotic materials on a videotape-like backing that is then wound around a bottle that is used to contain the fusion reaction.

    Commonwealth, which has raised more than $250 million so far and employs 150 people, received a significant boost last year when physicists at M.I.T.’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and the company published seven peer-reviewed papers in the Journal of Plasma Physics explaining that the reactor will work as planned.

    What remains to be proved is that the Commonwealth prototype reactor can produce more energy than it consumes, an ability that physicists define as Q greater than 1. The company is hoping that its prototype, when complete, will produce 10 times the energy it consumes.

    So far, the best effort to reach positive energy output from a fusion reactor was achieved by the Joint European Torus, or JET, project, a Tokamak that began operation in 1983 in Oxfordshire, England. The device was able to produce 16 megawatts of fusion power while consuming 24 megawatts.

    Commonwealth must also convince skeptics that fusion reactors can produce electricity competitively. The falling costs of other types of alternative energy and the significant costs of building full-scale fusion reactors are potential obstacles.

    Daniel Jassby, a retired plasma physicist at Princeton University, has written critical essays about the commercial potential of fusion power in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and in Physics & Society. He described some of the start-up companies as being engaged in “voodoo fusion energy.” A number of the companies have not yet demonstrated that their technologies will create fusion reactions.

    He separates Commonwealth from this category because Tokamak designs have generated fusion power. But he argues that new fusion technologies will be unlikely to produce cheap electric power.

    “Their claims are unjustified,” Mr. Jassby said in an interview. “They might be able to make something like that work eventually, but not on the time scale they’re talking about.”

    In response, Mr. Mumgaard said Mr. Jassby was not considering the power of the new technical advances that his Commonwealth and the M.I.T. researchers will soon achieve.

    He said that unlike other energy sources, fusion would create energy largely without a resource. “You add up all the costs, the cost of normal stuff like concrete and steel, and it will make as much power as a gas plant, but without having to pay for the gas,” Mr. Mumgaard said.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    MIT Seal

    USPS “Forever” postage stamps celebrating Innovation at MIT.

    MIT Campus

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) is a private land-grant research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The institute has an urban campus that extends more than a mile (1.6 km) alongside the Charles River. The institute also encompasses a number of major off-campus facilities such as the MIT Lincoln Laboratory (US), the MIT Bates Research and Engineering Center (US), and the Haystack Observatory (US), as well as affiliated laboratories such as the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard(US) and Whitehead Institute (US).

    Founded in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) adopted a European polytechnic university model and stressed laboratory instruction in applied science and engineering. It has since played a key role in the development of many aspects of modern science, engineering, mathematics, and technology, and is widely known for its innovation and academic strength. It is frequently regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

    As of December 2020, 97 Nobel laureates, 26 Turing Award winners, and 8 Fields Medalists have been affiliated with MIT as alumni, faculty members, or researchers. In addition, 58 National Medal of Science recipients, 29 National Medals of Technology and Innovation recipients, 50 MacArthur Fellows, 80 Marshall Scholars, 3 Mitchell Scholars, 22 Schwarzman Scholars, 41 astronauts, and 16 Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force have been affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) . The university also has a strong entrepreneurial culture and MIT alumni have founded or co-founded many notable companies. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

    Foundation and vision

    In 1859, a proposal was submitted to the Massachusetts General Court to use newly filled lands in Back Bay, Boston for a “Conservatory of Art and Science”, but the proposal failed. A charter for the incorporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed by William Barton Rogers, was signed by John Albion Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, on April 10, 1861.

    Rogers, a professor from the University of Virginia (US), wanted to establish an institution to address rapid scientific and technological advances. He did not wish to found a professional school, but a combination with elements of both professional and liberal education, proposing that:

    “The true and only practicable object of a polytechnic school is, as I conceive, the teaching, not of the minute details and manipulations of the arts, which can be done only in the workshop, but the inculcation of those scientific principles which form the basis and explanation of them, and along with this, a full and methodical review of all their leading processes and operations in connection with physical laws.”

    The Rogers Plan reflected the German research university model, emphasizing an independent faculty engaged in research, as well as instruction oriented around seminars and laboratories.

    Early developments

    Two days after Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) was chartered, the first battle of the Civil War broke out. After a long delay through the war years, MIT’s first classes were held in the Mercantile Building in Boston in 1865. The new institute was founded as part of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act to fund institutions “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes” and was a land-grant school. In 1863 under the same act, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts founded the Massachusetts Agricultural College, which developed as the University of Massachusetts Amherst (US)). In 1866, the proceeds from land sales went toward new buildings in the Back Bay.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) was informally called “Boston Tech”. The institute adopted the European polytechnic university model and emphasized laboratory instruction from an early date. Despite chronic financial problems, the institute saw growth in the last two decades of the 19th century under President Francis Amasa Walker. Programs in electrical, chemical, marine, and sanitary engineering were introduced, new buildings were built, and the size of the student body increased to more than one thousand.

    The curriculum drifted to a vocational emphasis, with less focus on theoretical science. The fledgling school still suffered from chronic financial shortages which diverted the attention of the MIT leadership. During these “Boston Tech” years, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) faculty and alumni rebuffed Harvard University (US) president (and former MIT faculty) Charles W. Eliot’s repeated attempts to merge MIT with Harvard College’s Lawrence Scientific School. There would be at least six attempts to absorb MIT into Harvard. In its cramped Back Bay location, MIT could not afford to expand its overcrowded facilities, driving a desperate search for a new campus and funding. Eventually, the MIT Corporation approved a formal agreement to merge with Harvard, over the vehement objections of MIT faculty, students, and alumni. However, a 1917 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court effectively put an end to the merger scheme.

    In 1916, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) administration and the MIT charter crossed the Charles River on the ceremonial barge Bucentaur built for the occasion, to signify MIT’s move to a spacious new campus largely consisting of filled land on a one-mile-long (1.6 km) tract along the Cambridge side of the Charles River. The neoclassical “New Technology” campus was designed by William W. Bosworth and had been funded largely by anonymous donations from a mysterious “Mr. Smith”, starting in 1912. In January 1920, the donor was revealed to be the industrialist George Eastman of Rochester, New York, who had invented methods of film production and processing, and founded Eastman Kodak. Between 1912 and 1920, Eastman donated $20 million ($236.6 million in 2015 dollars) in cash and Kodak stock to MIT.

    Curricular reforms

    In the 1930s, President Karl Taylor Compton and Vice-President (effectively Provost) Vannevar Bush emphasized the importance of pure sciences like physics and chemistry and reduced the vocational practice required in shops and drafting studios. The Compton reforms “renewed confidence in the ability of the Institute to develop leadership in science as well as in engineering”. Unlike Ivy League schools, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) catered more to middle-class families, and depended more on tuition than on endowments or grants for its funding. The school was elected to the Association of American Universities (US)in 1934.

    Still, as late as 1949, the Lewis Committee lamented in its report on the state of education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) that “the Institute is widely conceived as basically a vocational school”, a “partly unjustified” perception the committee sought to change. The report comprehensively reviewed the undergraduate curriculum, recommended offering a broader education, and warned against letting engineering and government-sponsored research detract from the sciences and humanities. The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and the MIT Sloan School of Management were formed in 1950 to compete with the powerful Schools of Science and Engineering. Previously marginalized faculties in the areas of economics, management, political science, and linguistics emerged into cohesive and assertive departments by attracting respected professors and launching competitive graduate programs. The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences continued to develop under the successive terms of the more humanistically oriented presidents Howard W. Johnson and Jerome Wiesner between 1966 and 1980.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)‘s involvement in military science surged during World War II. In 1941, Vannevar Bush was appointed head of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development and directed funding to only a select group of universities, including MIT. Engineers and scientists from across the country gathered at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)’s Radiation Laboratory, established in 1940 to assist the British military in developing microwave radar. The work done there significantly affected both the war and subsequent research in the area. Other defense projects included gyroscope-based and other complex control systems for gunsight, bombsight, and inertial navigation under Charles Stark Draper’s Instrumentation Laboratory; the development of a digital computer for flight simulations under Project Whirlwind; and high-speed and high-altitude photography under Harold Edgerton. By the end of the war, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) became the nation’s largest wartime R&D contractor (attracting some criticism of Bush), employing nearly 4000 in the Radiation Laboratory alone and receiving in excess of $100 million ($1.2 billion in 2015 dollars) before 1946. Work on defense projects continued even after then. Post-war government-sponsored research at MIT included SAGE and guidance systems for ballistic missiles and Project Apollo.

    These activities affected Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) profoundly. A 1949 report noted the lack of “any great slackening in the pace of life at the Institute” to match the return to peacetime, remembering the “academic tranquility of the prewar years”, though acknowledging the significant contributions of military research to the increased emphasis on graduate education and rapid growth of personnel and facilities. The faculty doubled and the graduate student body quintupled during the terms of Karl Taylor Compton, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) between 1930 and 1948; James Rhyne Killian, president from 1948 to 1957; and Julius Adams Stratton, chancellor from 1952 to 1957, whose institution-building strategies shaped the expanding university. By the 1950s, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) no longer simply benefited the industries with which it had worked for three decades, and it had developed closer working relationships with new patrons, philanthropic foundations and the federal government.

    In late 1960s and early 1970s, student and faculty activists protested against the Vietnam War and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)’s defense research. In this period Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)’s various departments were researching helicopters, smart bombs and counterinsurgency techniques for the war in Vietnam as well as guidance systems for nuclear missiles. The Union of Concerned Scientists was founded on March 4, 1969 during a meeting of faculty members and students seeking to shift the emphasis on military research toward environmental and social problems. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) ultimately divested itself from the Instrumentation Laboratory and moved all classified research off-campus to the MIT (US) Lincoln Laboratory facility in 1973 in response to the protests. The student body, faculty, and administration remained comparatively unpolarized during what was a tumultuous time for many other universities. Johnson was seen to be highly successful in leading his institution to “greater strength and unity” after these times of turmoil. However six Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) students were sentenced to prison terms at this time and some former student leaders, such as Michael Albert and George Katsiaficas, are still indignant about MIT’s role in military research and its suppression of these protests. (Richard Leacock’s film, November Actions, records some of these tumultuous events.)

    In the 1980s, there was more controversy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) over its involvement in SDI (space weaponry) and CBW (chemical and biological warfare) research. More recently, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)’s research for the military has included work on robots, drones and ‘battle suits’.

    Recent history

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) has kept pace with and helped to advance the digital age. In addition to developing the predecessors to modern computing and networking technologies, students, staff, and faculty members at Project MAC, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and the Tech Model Railroad Club wrote some of the earliest interactive computer video games like Spacewar! and created much of modern hacker slang and culture. Several major computer-related organizations have originated at MIT since the 1980s: Richard Stallman’s GNU Project and the subsequent Free Software Foundation were founded in the mid-1980s at the AI Lab; the MIT Media Lab was founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner to promote research into novel uses of computer technology; the World Wide Web Consortium standards organization was founded at the Laboratory for Computer Science in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee; the MIT OpenCourseWare project has made course materials for over 2,000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) classes available online free of charge since 2002; and the One Laptop per Child initiative to expand computer education and connectivity to children worldwide was launched in 2005.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) was named a sea-grant college in 1976 to support its programs in oceanography and marine sciences and was named a space-grant college in 1989 to support its aeronautics and astronautics programs. Despite diminishing government financial support over the past quarter century, MIT launched several successful development campaigns to significantly expand the campus: new dormitories and athletics buildings on west campus; the Tang Center for Management Education; several buildings in the northeast corner of campus supporting research into biology, brain and cognitive sciences, genomics, biotechnology, and cancer research; and a number of new “backlot” buildings on Vassar Street including the Stata Center. Construction on campus in the 2000s included expansions of the Media Lab, the Sloan School’s eastern campus, and graduate residences in the northwest. In 2006, President Hockfield launched the MIT Energy Research Council to investigate the interdisciplinary challenges posed by increasing global energy consumption.

    In 2001, inspired by the open source and open access movements, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) launched OpenCourseWare to make the lecture notes, problem sets, syllabi, exams, and lectures from the great majority of its courses available online for no charge, though without any formal accreditation for coursework completed. While the cost of supporting and hosting the project is high, OCW expanded in 2005 to include other universities as a part of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which currently includes more than 250 academic institutions with content available in at least six languages. In 2011, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) announced it would offer formal certification (but not credits or degrees) to online participants completing coursework in its “MITx” program, for a modest fee. The “edX” online platform supporting MITx was initially developed in partnership with Harvard and its analogous “Harvardx” initiative. The courseware platform is open source, and other universities have already joined and added their own course content. In March 2009 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) faculty adopted an open-access policy to make its scholarship publicly accessible online.

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) has its own police force. Three days after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013, MIT Police patrol officer Sean Collier was fatally shot by the suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, setting off a violent manhunt that shut down the campus and much of the Boston metropolitan area for a day. One week later, Collier’s memorial service was attended by more than 10,000 people, in a ceremony hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) community with thousands of police officers from the New England region and Canada. On November 25, 2013, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) announced the creation of the Collier Medal, to be awarded annually to “an individual or group that embodies the character and qualities that Officer Collier exhibited as a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) community and in all aspects of his life”. The announcement further stated that “Future recipients of the award will include those whose contributions exceed the boundaries of their profession, those who have contributed to building bridges across the community, and those who consistently and selflessly perform acts of kindness”.

    In September 2017, the school announced the creation of an artificial intelligence research lab called the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab. IBM will spend $240 million over the next decade, and the lab will be staffed by MIT and IBM scientists. In October 2018 MIT announced that it would open a new Schwarzman College of Computing dedicated to the study of artificial intelligence, named after lead donor and The Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman. The focus of the new college is to study not just AI, but interdisciplinary AI education, and how AI can be used in fields as diverse as history and biology. The cost of buildings and new faculty for the new college is expected to be $1 billion upon completion.

    The Caltech/MIT Advanced aLIGO (US) was designed and constructed by a team of scientists from California Institute of Technology (US), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), and industrial contractors, and funded by the National Science Foundation (US) .

    MIT/Caltech Advanced aLigo .

    It was designed to open the field of gravitational-wave astronomy through the detection of gravitational waves predicted by general relativity. Gravitational waves were detected for the first time by the LIGO detector in 2015. For contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves, two Caltech physicists, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) physicist Rainer Weiss won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2017. Weiss, who is also an Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) graduate, designed the laser interferometric technique, which served as the essential blueprint for the LIGO.

    The mission of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-first century. We seek to develop in each member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

  • richardmitnick 2:06 pm on August 13, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "For Many Hydrogen Is the Fuel of the Future. New Research Raises Doubts", Most hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas in a process that requires a lot of energy and emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide., Such findings could alter the calculus for hydrogen., The New York Times, The scientists found that the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen was more than 20 percent greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat., There is an emerging consensus that a wider hydrogen economy that relies on natural gas could be damaging to the climate., To call [Hydrogen] a zero-emissions fuel is totally wrong. It is not even a low-emissions fuel either., Today very little hydrogen is "green" because the process involved-electrolyzing water to separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen-is hugely energy intensive.   

    From The New York Times : “For Many Hydrogen Is the Fuel of the Future. New Research Raises Doubts” 

    From The New York Times

    Aug. 12, 2021
    Hiroko Tabuchi

    Fueling a Toyota hydrogen vehicle in Fountain Valley, California. Credit: Philip Cheung for The New York Times.

    It is seen by many as the clean energy of the future. Billions of dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure bill have been teed up to fund it.

    But a new peer-reviewed study [Energy Science & Engineering] on the climate effects of hydrogen, the most abundant substance in the universe, casts doubt on its role in tackling the greenhouse gas emissions that are the driver of catastrophic global warming.

    The main stumbling block: Most hydrogen used today is extracted from natural gas in a process that requires a lot of energy and emits vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Producing natural gas also releases methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

    And while the natural gas industry has proposed capturing that carbon dioxide — creating what it promotes as emissions-free, “blue” hydrogen — even that fuel still emits more across its entire supply chain than simply burning natural gas, according to the paper, published Thursday in RECHARGE by researchers from Cornell University (US) and Stanford University (US).

    “To call it a zero-emissions fuel is totally wrong,” said Robert W. Howarth, a biogeochemist and ecosystem scientist at Cornell and the study’s lead author. “What we found is that it’s not even a low-emissions fuel either.”

    To arrive at their conclusion, Dr. Howarth and Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of its Atmosphere/Energy program, examined the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of blue hydrogen. They accounted for both carbon dioxide emissions and the methane that leaks from wells and other equipment during natural gas production.

    The researchers assumed that 3.5 percent of the gas drilled from the ground leaks into the atmosphere, an assumption that draws on mounting research that has found that drilling for natural gas emits far more methane than previously known.

    They also took into account the natural gas required to power the carbon capture technology. In all, they found that the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen was more than 20 percent greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat. (Running the analysis at a far lower gas leak rate of 1.54 percent only reduced emissions slightly, and emissions from blue hydrogen still remained higher than from simply burning natural gas.)

    Such findings could alter the calculus for hydrogen. Over the past few years, the natural gas industry has begun heavily promoting hydrogen as a reliable, next-generation fuel to be used to power cars, heat homes and burn in power plants.

    In the United States, Europe and elsewhere, the industry has also pointed to hydrogen as justification for continuing to build gas infrastructure like pipelines, saying that pipes that carry natural gas could in the future carry a cleaner blend of natural gas and hydrogen.

    While many experts agree that hydrogen could eventually play a role in energy storage or powering certain types of transportation — such as aircraft or long-haul trucks, where switching to battery-electric power may be challenging — there is an emerging consensus that a wider hydrogen economy that relies on natural gas could be damaging to the climate. (At current costs, it would also be very expensive.)

    The latest study added to the evidence, said Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University (US). Dr. Shindell was the lead author of a United Nations report published this year that found that slashing emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas, is far more vital in tackling global warming than previously thought. In a new report published this week, the U.N. warned that essentially all of the rise in global average temperatures since the 19th century has been driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

    The hydrogen study showed that “the potential to keep using fossil fuels with something extra added on as a potential climate solution is neither fully accounting for emissions, nor making realistic assumptions” about future costs, he said in an email.

    The Hydrogen Council, an industry group founded in 2017 that includes BP, Shell, and other big oil and gas companies, did not provide immediate comment. A McKinsey & Company report co-authored with industry estimated that the hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion in annual revenue by 2030 and support 700,000 jobs. The study also projected that hydrogen could meet 14 percent of total American energy demand by 2050. BP declined to comment.

    In Washington, the latest bipartisan infrastructure package devotes $8 billion to creating regional hydrogen hubs, a provision originally introduced as part of a separate bill by Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, a major natural gas producing region. Among companies that lobbied for investment in hydrogen were NextEra Energy, which has proposed a solar-powered hydrogen pilot plant in Florida.

    Some other Democrats, like Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, have pushed back against the idea, calling it an “empty promise.” Environmental groups have also criticized the spending. “It’s not a climate action,” said Jim Walsh, a senior energy policy analyst at Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit group. “It’s this is a fossil fuel subsidy with Congress acting like they’re doing something on climate, while propping up the next chapter of the fossil fuel industry.”

    Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California-Irvine (US), said that hydrogen would ultimately need to be made using renewable energy to produce what the industry calls green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy to split water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen. That, he said, would eliminate the fossil and the methane leaks.

    Hydrogen made from fossil fuels could still act as a transition fuel but would ultimately be “a small contributor to the overall sustainable hydrogen economy,” he said. “First we use blue, then we make it all green,” he said.

    Today very little hydrogen is “green” because the process involved-electrolyzing water to separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen-is hugely energy intensive. In most places, there simply isn’t enough renewable energy to produce vast amounts of green hydrogen. (Although if the world does start to produce excess renewable energy, converting it to hydrogen would be one way to store it.)

    For the foreseeable future, most hydrogen fuel will very likely be made from natural gas through an energy-intensive and polluting method called the steam reforming process, which uses steam, high heat and pressure to break down the methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

    Blue hydrogen uses the same process but applies carbon capture and storage technology, which involves capturing carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere and then pumping it underground in an effort to lock it away. But that still doesn’t account for the natural gas that generates the hydrogen, powers the steam reforming process and runs the CO2 capture. “Those are substantial,” Dr. Howarth of Cornell said.

    Amy Townsend-Small, an associate professor in environmental science at the University of Cincinnati (US) and an expert on methane emissions, said more scientists were starting to examine some of the industry claims around hydrogen, in the same way they had scrutinized the climate effects of natural gas production. “I think this research is going drive the conversation forward,” she said.

    Plans to produce and use hydrogen are moving ahead. National Grid, together with Stony Brook University-SUNY (US) and New York State, is studying integrating hydrogen into its existing gas infrastructure, though the project seeks to produce hydrogen using renewable energy.

    Entergy believed hydrogen was “part of creating a long-term carbon-free future,” complementing renewables like wind or solar, which generate power only intermittently, said Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for the utility. “Hydrogen is an important technology that will allow utilities to adopt much greater levels of renewables,” he said.

    National Grid referred to its net zero plan, which says hydrogen will play a major role in the next few decades and that producing hydrogen from renewable energy was the linchpin.

    New York State was “exploring all technologies” including hydrogen in support of its climate goals, said Kate T. Muller, a spokeswoman for the state’s Energy Research and Development Authority. Still, its researchers would “review and consider the blue hydrogen paper,” she said.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 8:45 am on June 15, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Mushballs and a Great Blue Spot- What Lies Beneath Jupiter’s Pretty Clouds", NASA Juno at Jupiter, , The New York Times   

    From The New York Times : “Mushballs and a Great Blue Spot- What Lies Beneath Jupiter’s Pretty Clouds” 

    From The New York Times

    June 14, 2021
    Kenneth Chang

    Jupiter and its southern hemisphere, captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft in February 2019.Credit: Kevin M. Gill/National Aeronautics Space Agency (US)/JPL-Caltech (US)/Southwest Research Institute (US)/Malin Space Science Systems(US).

    For something that was to have been done and thrown away three years ago, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has a busy schedule ahead exploring Jupiter and its big moons.

    The spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016, and has survived bombardment from intense radiation at the largest of the solar system’s planets. It is now finishing its primary mission, but NASA has granted it a four-year extension and 42 more orbits. Last week, it zipped past Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.

    “Basically, we designed and built an armored tank,” said Scott J. Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, who is the mission’s principal investigator. “And it’s worked.”

    Jupiter is essentially a big ball of mostly hydrogen, but it has turned out to be a pretty complicated ball. The mission’s discoveries include lightning higher up than thought possible, rings of stable storms at the north and south poles, and winds extending so deep into the interior that they might push around the planet’s magnetic fields.

    “I think this has been a revelation,” said David J. Stevenson, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology (US) and a co-investigator on the mission.

    Juno’s highly elliptical path, pitched up at almost a 90-degree angle to the orbits of Jupiter’s moons, passes over the planet’s north and south poles. On each orbit, Juno swoops in, reaching a top speed of 130,000 miles per hour as it passes within a few thousand miles of Jupiter’s clouds.

    Storms on Jupiter’s northern hemisphere, captured by Juno’s 24th flyby in December 2019.Credit: NASA.

    An early problem with the propulsion system led mission managers to forego an engine firing that would have shortened the orbit to 14 days from 53 days. The mission’s scientists had to be more patient but that has become a blessing.

    In the original timeline, Juno would have completed its work by early 2018. With the spacecraft’s more languid trajectories, researchers will get to watch changes in and around Jupiter that they might have missed had the mission wrapped up sooner.

    The additional orbits of the extended mission will also enable further investigations of the mysteries that Juno has revealed, like the rings of storms at the north and south poles — eight storms around the north pole, five around the south pole.

    At one point, it looked as if a sixth storm was entering the group at the south pole, but then it was pushed away.

    “It’s like five bullies on the playground, right?” said Candice J. Hansen-Koharcheck, a scientist at the Planetary Science Institute (US) in Tucson, Ariz., who is responsible for the operation of the spacecraft’s primary camera, JunoCam. “Oh, no, you cannot join our game.”


    Why do the storms, which last for years and are all about 2,500 miles in diameter, appear to remain constant in number?

    Two storms would easily fit in a polar region without disrupting each other, said Yohai Kaspi, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science (IL) in Israel and a co-investigator on the mission. “But if you had 100, then that would be too close, and they wouldn’t be stable,” he said. “There is this magic number that can make them fit.”

    The atmospheric patterns in the top half of Jupiter differ from those of the bottom half. “We tested a little bit with different dynamics of the north and the south,” he said, in order to understand why the two poles have different numbers of storms.

    Scientists will get a closer look at the eight storms at the top of Jupiter in the coming years. Jupiter’s immense gravity is tugging on Juno’s orbit so that the spacecraft’s closest approaches — what the scientists call perijoves — no longer occur over the equator but are migrating northward. By the end of the extended mission, the perijove of the orbit will occur at a latitude that is the equivalent of where St. Petersburg, Russia, lies on Earth.

    Work on the Juno spacecraft in Titusville, Fla., in 2011. “Basically, we designed and built an armored tank,” said the mission’s principal investigator. “And it’s worked.” Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA.

    Those orbits will also provide closer observations of the perplexing lightning high in the atmosphere.

    The colorful, swirling stripes of Jupiter are just the tops of the highest clouds, which are made of frozen ammonia crystals coated with soot. But Jupiter’s water clouds — where lightning observed by earlier spacecraft appeared to originate — are 30 to 40 miles deeper than the cloud tops. Within the water clouds, lightning probably occurs much as in thunderstorms on Earth, fueled by the collision of water droplets with ice crystals that build up electrical charge.

    But the dim, never-before-detected flashes that Juno spotted were higher up in the atmosphere, where temperatures, about minus-125 degrees Fahrenheit, are far too cold for water to remain a liquid.

    When she first saw the flashes, the reaction of Heidi N. Becker, a scientist at NASA’s JPL-Caltech (US) in California who is the lead for Juno’s radiation monitoring research, was “Uh oh, what’s wrong?”

    The key to unraveling this mystery was ammonia in the atmosphere, which acted as an antifreeze.

    “Jupiter has incredibly violent storms that can fling up water ice particles from below at 100, 200 miles per hour and get to these very high altitudes,” Dr. Becker said.

    High up, the water ice crystals mix with the ammonia vapors and melt. The water-ammonia droplets then collide with additional ice crystals flung up from below, building electrical charge to generate lightning.

    Seemingly paradoxically, the ammonia is also key to explaining why there is so little ammonia in the same swaths of the atmosphere where the lightning occurs. Scientists had expected that beneath the ammonia ice clouds, the churning winds of Jupiter would mix the ammonia gas evenly throughout the atmosphere.

    “But this is not what’s happening,” said Tristan Guillot, director of research at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in France and a co-investigator on the mission. “We have regions down to 200 kilometers below or perhaps more, that contain much less ammonia than other regions.”

    That appears to be caused by downpours of mushballs — viscous, sticky conglomerations the size of baseballs.

    Scientists realized that the ammonia-water droplets do not remain as small droplets. Instead, they continue to grow until they are too heavy to remain suspended in the air. “Like big hailstones on Earth,” Dr. Stevenson said.

    The raining mushballs, scientists believe, carry much of the ammonia to the deeper reaches of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

    A composite of eight circumpolar cyclones at Jupiter’s north pole.Credit: Gerald Eichstädt/John Rogers/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

    Storms on Jupiter’s northern side cast slight shadows that scientists use to determine the distances between cloud layers.Credit: Gerald Eichstädt/Sean Doran/ NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

    An illustration showing high-altitude electrical storms, based off of data from Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit camera, which detected lightning flashes on Jupiter’s dark side.Credit: Gerald Eichstädt/Heidi N. Becker/Koji Kuramura/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.

    The mission has furthered understanding of the Great Red Spot, showing that the iconic giant storm, which has persisted for centuries, extends more than 200 miles deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere, and it has led to the discovery of a new region scientists call the Great Blue Spot.

    It is not actually blue; the name is an artifact of the color scheme used in mapping Jupiter’s magnetic field. Indeed, photographs yield no visible hints of the Great Blue Spot. The dark blue region in the magnetic map just indicates a confluence of invisible magnetic field lines entering Jupiter at that point — almost a second south pole sticking out near the equator.

    Kimberly M. Moore, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, compared Juno’s magnetic measurements with observations by earlier spacecraft to see how magnetic fields in the Great Blue Spot have changed over the decades.

    It appears that the center of the Great Blue Spot is being blown to the west by one jet of winds while eastward winds are shearing the top and bottom sections of the spot in the opposite direction.

    That would suggest that the winds of Jupiter extend far below the cloud tops, down to regions where pressures and temperatures are high enough to turn hydrogen into an electrical conductor. Electrical currents generate magnetic fields.

    The strength of the magnetic fields within the Great Blue Spot is changing by as much as one percent per year — growing stronger in some places, weakening in others. By the end of the extended mission in 2025, Dr. Moore will have almost a decade of data to test her hypothesis, which foresees changes of up to 10 percent during that time. “That’s what our model predicts, and we want to test it,” she said.

    The scientists are likely to come across new mysteries too. The Great Blue Spot is at about the same latitude as the Great Red Spot. Are the two related or separate phenomena?

    “The fact that they travel at different speeds suggests that maybe they’re unlikely to be related,” Dr. Moore said. “But maybe there is some sort of causal mechanism. It is all just one fluid planet, after all.”

    During the extended mission, Juno will also fly by three of Jupiter’s large moons.

    Last week, Juno provided scientists with the first close-up look in more than 20 years of Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s moons.

    Ganymede. Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. Credit: NASA.

    At more than 3,200 miles wide, Ganymede is larger than the planet Mercury, and it is the only moon known to generate its own magnetic field.

    Dr. Hansen-Koharcheck will be comparing pictures of Ganymede taken by Juno with older images. Parts of the surface are marked by grooves often seen on icy moons. Although there is still an ocean of liquid water beneath the moon’s icy crust, the ice is thought to be more than 60 miles thick, and Ganymede’s grooves most likely formed a few billion years ago when the surface was warmer and more bendable, Dr. Hansen-Koharcheck said.

    “It’s highly unlikely that the groove terrain now is in communication with that water mantle,” she said. “However, if we were to find it, I would also be jumping up and down screaming.”

    Europa, left, and Io, Jovian moons next on Juno’s to-do list, captured by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979.Credit: NASA/ARC.

    The magnetic fields around Ganymede might tell a more intriguing tale. Inside, molten iron presumably still flows to generate a bubble of magnetic fields called a magnetosphere similar to the one that protects Earth from the wind of charged particles from the sun.

    “We got a really excellent opportunity with this flyby to go right through it,” said Frances Bagenal, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado (US), Boulder, and a co-investigator on the mission.

    The observations of Ganymede’s fields and how they intertwine with Jupiter’s will help illuminate how a thin atmosphere of charged particles forms around the moon, how the charged particles generate glowing auroras and how some of the charged particles travel directly between Jupiter and Ganymede. Infrared measurements will show variations in the concentration of water molecules, which are dislodged from the ice by the bombardment of particles.

    Juno will not be passing this close to Ganymede again, but it will be making flybys of two other large and very different moons.

    One of those moons, Io, is a hellish world that is the most volcanically active in the solar system. Juno’s infrared instrument will measure hot spots on Io with more precision than earlier spacecraft.

    “Cracks in the surface and you have a lot of lava rivers, something like that,” said Alessandro Mura of the INAF Astronomical Observatory of Rome (IT) who leads Juno’s infrared mapping instrument.

    The other moon it will visit, Europa, is covered in ice with a deep ocean beneath. Europa is considered one of the most promising places to look for life elsewhere in the solar system.

    At Europa, JunoCam will be pointed at the dividing line between day and night. In recent years, observations by the Hubble Space Telescope have indicated eruptions of water vapor from the ocean breaking through the icy surface. The hope is that JunoCam might fortuitously capture a water plume, backlit by sunlight.

    “That’s a really, really good way of looking for eruptions,” Dr. Hansen-Koharcheck said. The same technique detected a volcanic eruption on Io.

    Europa’s ice shell is thinner than Ganymede’s, so the chances are higher of finding a smooth spot where water or frozen vapor recently erupted onto the surface. “We’d be looking for surface deposits that might look fresh or particularly bright,” Dr. Hansen-Koharcheck said.

    All this might not have been possible if not for that propulsion glitch. If the spacecraft had orbited Jupiter every 14 days instead of 53, Juno might not have been in a position to perform the flybys of the moons.

    “I think it was fortuitous,” Dr. Bolton said.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:25 pm on June 8, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA Just Visited the Solar System’s Biggest Moon", , , , The New York Times   

    From The New York Times : “NASA Just Visited the Solar System’s Biggest Moon” 

    From The New York Times

    June 8, 2021
    Kenneth Chang

    The Juno spacecraft completed a close flyby of Ganymede, Jupiter’s biggest moon, as it transitions into a new phase of its mission.

    An image of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede obtained by the Juno spacecraft during its flyby of the icy moon on Monday. Credit: National Aeronautics Space Agency (US)/JPL-Caltech (US) /Southwest Research Institute (US)/Malin Space Science Systems(US)

    Time for your close-up, Ganymede.

    On Monday, the NASA spacecraft Juno passed within 645 miles of Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s 79 known moons and indeed the largest moon in the entire solar system. It was the first up-close examination of Ganymede since an earlier NASA probe, Galileo, passed by in December 2000.

    NASA released on Tuesday two images from the flyby, revealing in remarkable detail craters, possible tectonic faults and distinct bright and dark terrains.

    This image of the dark side of Ganymede was obtained by Juno’s Stellar Reference Unit navigation camera during its June 7, 2021, flyby of the moon. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

    One image, by the main camera, JunoCam, captured most of the day side of Ganymede. For now, the image is in black and white. But when additional versions of the same view, taken through red and blue filters, are sent back from the spacecraft, the images can be combined into a color portrait.

    The second image was captured by a navigation camera called the Stellar Reference Unit that can operate in low light and was able to get a clear view of the night side of Ganymede as Juno flew by.

    “It will be fun to see what the two teams can piece together” with the forthcoming images, said Heidi Becker, the Juno mission’s radiation monitoring lead.

    The spacecraft will continue to send back its observations over the coming days.

    Juno, which arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, is just now finishing its primary mission to probe the deep interior of the largest planet that orbits the sun. It has discovered that storms like the Great Red Spot penetrate deep down into the giant planet’s gassy atmosphere and that the core of Jupiter is bigger and more diffuse than had been expected.

    But instead of ending the mission by sending Juno on a death dive into Jupiter, NASA has extended the mission through 2025. Juno will now make 42 additional orbits of Jupiter and some of those orbits will include close flybys of Ganymede and two of Jupiter’s other large moons, Io and Europa.

    “We’re very fortunate that the spacecraft is healthy,” said Scott Bolton, the principal investigator of the mission, “and able to produce such great science and all the results and incredible imagery all these years.”

    Ganymede, at more than 3,200 miles wide, is bigger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon large enough to generate its own magnetosphere — a bubble of magnetic fields that trap and deflect charged particles from the sun.

    “We’re well equipped, probably better equipped to measure the magnetosphere of Ganymede and its interaction with Jupiter’s magnetosphere than any spacecraft has ever been,” Dr. Bolton said.

    The data that Juno gathers will help a couple of future missions. Next year, the European Space Agency is to launch JUICE — the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer — which will make multiple flybys of three large moons — Ganymede, Europa and Callisto — before entering orbit around Ganymede in 2032.

    Another NASA mission, Europa Clipper, is to launch later this decade and will focus on Europa, one of the most intriguing worlds for planetary scientists searching for life elsewhere in the solar system.

    Europa possesses a deep ocean under its ice-encrusted surface, with heat from the moon’s core possibly providing enough energy for organisms to live in the waters.

    “We’ll sort of fill in the blank a little bit,” Dr. Bolton said.

    The immense pull of Jupiter’s gravity is steadily tilting Juno’s orbit so that it now makes its closest approaches of Jupiter in the northern hemisphere. That was not ideal for some of the observations during the primary mission, but now it will allow planetary scientists to get a better look at Jupiter’s north pole and the region’s enigmatic storms.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:22 am on June 1, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Will the Next Space-Weather Season Be Stormy or Fair?", , , , , , The New York Times, Women in STEM- Meredith MacGregor   

    From The New York Times : “Will the Next Space-Weather Season Be Stormy or Fair?” Women in STEM- Meredith MacGregor 

    From The New York Times

    May 28, 2021
    Dennis Overbye

    Solar flaring on the surface of the sun over 18 hours, July 30 to 31, 2012. A little more than a week earlier, a giant solar mass ejection nearly caused technological calamity on Earth.

    The big news about the sun is that there is no big news. We are blessed, astronomers like to say, to be living next to a “boring star.”

    But the inhabitants (if there are any) of the planets orbiting the neighboring star Proxima Centauri, only 4.2 light-years away, are less fortunate. In April astronomers announced that a massive flare had erupted from its surface in 2019 [The Astrophysical Journal Letters]. For seven seconds, as a battery of telescopes on Earth and in space watched, the little star had increased its output of ultraviolet radiation 14,000-fold, in one of the most violent such flares ever seen in our galaxy.

    This was more than serious sunburn territory. “A human being on this planet would have a bad time,” said Meredith MacGregor, an astronomy professor at the University of Colorado (US) who led the worldwide observing effort.

    Space weather on this scale could sterilize potentially habitable planets, and could augur bad news for the search for life beyond this solar system. Even mild space weather can be disruptive to creatures already evolved and settled; sunspots and solar storms, which wax and wane in an 11-year cycle, spray energy that can endanger spacecraft, astronauts and communication systems.

    A new cycle of storms will begin any day now, and astrophysicists are divided on how active or threatening it will be. The sun may be about to set records for sunspot numbers and violent storms, or it may be sliding into a decline like the Maunder Minimum, from 1645 to 1715, when hardly any sunspots appeared — a period that became known in Europe as “The Little Ice Age”.

    Cosmic mortgage payments

    Proxima Centauri, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2013.Credit: National Aeronautics Space Agency (US)/European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU)/ Hubble.

    “We live in the atmosphere of a star,” as Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (US) in Boulder, Colo., often says. “As a civilization we take our star for granted.”

    Here, 93 million miles from the nearest star — the one we call our sun — we exist and mostly thrive on the edge of almost incomprehensible violence and complexity.

    The sun is a medium-size star, a ball of blazing-hot ionized gas one million miles in diameter. Its large inside rotates faster than its outside, and the outer layers rotate faster at the equator than at the poles. The result is a snarled nest of magnetic fields, which manifest as sunspots and worse when they break the surface.

    Every second, thermonuclear reactions in the center of the sun burn 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium. The missing four million tons, turned into pure energy, constitute the mortgage payment for all the life on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the solar system. As the energy emerges from the sun, it rises through successively cooler and less dense layers of gas and finally, 100,000 years later, from the photosphere, or surface, where the temperature is a mere 5,700 kelvin, or 9,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The sun is amazingly consistent in making these mortgage payments. A few years ago an experiment in Italy confirmed that our star does not seem to have changed its energy output in at least the last 100,000 years, the time it takes that energy to migrate from the sun’s core. The researchers were able to calculate how much energy the sun produces in real time, by measuring subatomic particles called neutrinos that are produced by nuclear reactions inside the sun, escape in seconds and reach Earth in just eight minutes. This energy, they found, matched the output that was generated 100,000 years ago and is only now detectable.

    The corona of the sun, visible during a total solar eclipse over Madras, Ore., in 2017.Credit: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA.

    The action doesn’t stop at the sun’s surface. That friendly yellow photosphere boils like oatmeal and is pocked with dark magnetic storms (the infamous sunspots) that crackle, whirl and lash space with showers of electrical particles and radiation. The corona, composed of thin, superhot streamers of electrified gas, and visible only during solar eclipses, extends millions of miles from the glowing surface.

    Things sometimes go wrong, although so far on a scale far below the outbursts seen on Proxima Centauri.

    As the magnetic fields generated by all that swirling, electrified gas emerge on the sun’s surface, they become twisted and tangled. Eventually they snap and reconnect in loops, releasing enormous amounts of radiation and charged particles — an explosive solar flare that can be more powerful than millions of hydrogen bombs.

    Sometimes these flares blow whole chunks of the sun’s outer layers into space, in events called coronal mass ejections. The mother of all known solar storms thus far occurred on Sept. 1, 1859, when a blob of sun slammed into Earth. Sparks flew from telegraph systems in Europe and North America, causing fires. The auroras that night stretched as far south as Hawaii and Cuba and were so bright that people could read their newspapers by their light.

    In 2012 another a coronal mass ejection barely missed Earth. An earlier study by the National Academy of Sciences (US) concluded that a direct hit by such a storm could cause some $2 trillion in damage, shutting down the power grid and rendering satellites at least temporarily blind. Forget about trying to use the internet or your local A.T.M.; many people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilets without the electricity to run water pumps, the report noted. “I think as a civilization we become screwed,” Dr. McIntosh said.

    Cloudy with a chance of sunspots

    Sunspots observed in area called Active Region 1520, by the amateur astronomer Alan Friedman in July 2012. The large spot on the left is about 87,000 miles across, or roughly 11 Earths wide. Credit: Alan Friedman.

    Such storms are more likely to occur during the high points of the sun’s mysterious 11-year cycle of sunspot activity.

    Lately, the sunspot cycles have been getting weaker. During the last cycle, 101 spots were observed on the sun in 2014, the year of peak activity; that was well below the historical average of 160 to 240.

    Last year, a committee of scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US) forecast that the coming cycle would be similarly anemic, with a peak in 2025 of about 115 sunspots.

    But Dr. McIntosh and his colleagues have produced a radically different forecast, of more than 200 sunspots at its peak. The 11-year sunspot cycle, they say, based on an analysis of 140 years of solar measurements, belies a more fundamental 22-year Hale cycle, named after its discoverer, George Ellery Hale. During that period the sun’s magnetic field reverses its polarity, then switches back.

    Each cycle ends or begins when two bands of magnetism, migrating from opposite, high latitudes of the sun, meet at the equator and annihilate each other. On average each phase of the cycle takes 11 years, but it can vary.

    Dr. McIntosh and his team found that the longer a cycle went on, the weaker the next cycle would be, and vice versa. The current cycle, the 24th since record-keeping started, shows every sign of ending after a little more than 10 years — shorter than average, which means the next cycle should be strong.

    “Sunspot Cycle 25 could have a magnitude that rivals the top few since records began,” Dr. McIntosh said in late April. On Thursday, he and his team were still waiting for “ignition” to begin. “It is very, very close,” he wrote in an email. “We are watching very closely.”

    The elephant and the stars

    Images taken in 2019 of the sun’s surface, the highest resolution observations ever captured. Each of the cell-like structures is about the size of Texas.Credit:National Solar Observatory (US)/National Science Foundation (US)/ Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (US).

    At stake, besides the health of our planetary infrastructure, is the pride that astronomers take in feeling that they understand the complicated and violent processes going on behind the sun’s relatively calm face.

    “I think the problem with the sun is that we’re too close to it, and so there’s too much data about the sun,” Dr. McIntosh said. He called it a breaker of models: “Your models are going to fail eventually. It’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to forecast the weather, right? Because our observations are so detailed, but you know it’s hard to get it absolutely right.”

    Tony Phillips, an astronomer who runs the website Spaceweather.com, agreed in an email. “In my experience, when people really understand something, they can explain it simply,” he said. “It is striking to me that almost no one in the solar-cycle prediction business can explain their favorite dynamo model in a way that lay people can ‘get it.’”

    The situation reminded him of the proverbial blind men who try to produce a Theory of Elephants, with one of them focused solely on feeling the animal’s trunk.

    “Scott and Bob are standing off to the side shouting, ‘Hey, you guys are ignoring most of the elephant,’” he said. “In other words, there’s more to the solar cycle than is commonly assumed by conventional models. And so, according to Scott, they are doomed to get the big picture wrong.”

    Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College (US) who has spent his life observing the corona during solar eclipses, said he did not put much store in such forecasts. In an email, he recounted a meeting during the last cycle that had “an amusing set of talks.”

    The conversation, as he recalled it, went: “The next cycle will be stronger than average, the next cycle will be weaker than average, the next cycle will be either stronger than average or weaker than average, the next cycle will be neither stronger than average nor weaker than average.”

    He added, “So my plan is to wait and see.”

    Potential hazards aside, understanding how the sunspot cycle actually works is crucial “from a purely human standpoint, if you want to understand stars,” Dr. McIntosh said. “And if you think about it, Earth’s magnetic field is largely why we probably have life on Earth.”

    Mars, he pointed out, doesn’t have much of an atmosphere or a magnetic field. “If your planet doesn’t have a magnetic field, you can have all the atmosphere you want,” he said, “but your local friendly neighborhood star could whisk it away in a heartbeat.”

    Indeed, astrophysicists suspect that such a fate befell Mars, which was once warmer and wetter than it is now.

    Proxima Centauri, a small star known as an M dwarf, harbors at least two exoplanets, one of which is Earth-size and close enough to the star to be habitable if it weren’t bathed in radiation. Dr. MacGregor offered one glimmer of hope for life in such neighborhoods.

    “Recent work has shown that ultraviolet light might be very important for catalyzing life — turning complex molecules into amino acids and ultimately into single-celled organisms,” she said. “Since M dwarfs are so small and cold, they don’t actually produce that much UV radiation, except when they flare. Perhaps there is a sweet spot where a star flares enough to spark life but not so much that it immediately destroys it!”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 1:45 pm on May 31, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Here’s the Arctic Station That Keeps Satellites Connected", "SvalSat" as the station is known is a crucial behind-the-scenes workhorse supporting scientific research., Arrayed across a plateau on an island in the high Norwegian Arctic the 100 geodesic domes of the Svalbard Satellite Station look like abstract mushrooms sprouting from the snowy landscape., Each dome shelters a dish antenna that whirs to life throughout the day and night., The New York Times, The world’s northernmost tracking base on a Norwegian island plays a crucial role in supporting research on climate change.   

    From The New York Times : “Here’s the Arctic Station That Keeps Satellites Connected” 

    From The New York Times

    May 31, 2021
    Photographs by Anna Filipova
    Text by Henry Fountain

    The world’s northernmost tracking base on a Norwegian island plays a crucial role in supporting research on climate change.

    A member of the SvalSat team removed snow from an antenna dome. Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    Arrayed across a plateau on an island in the high Norwegian Arctic the 100 geodesic domes of the Svalbard Satellite Station [Svalbard satellittstasjon] (NO) look like abstract mushrooms sprouting from the snowy landscape.

    From outside, there seems to be little going on. But each dome shelters a dish antenna that whirs to life throughout the day and night, precisely aiming at satellites as they rise above the horizon and staying locked onto them as they arc across the sky. In the minutes before the satellite dips below the opposite horizon, software commands may be sent up and data is almost certainly sent down.

    “SvalSat” as the station is known is a crucial behind-the-scenes workhorse supporting scientific research. Located just outside the town of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard Archipelago, it is 800 miles from the North Pole, making it the northernmost satellite station in the world.

    An engineer inspected an antenna.Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    A new addition to the “antenna forest.” The station tracks satellites from National Aeronautics Space Agency (US), the European Space Agency [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganisation](EU), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [ (国立研究開発法人宇宙航空研究開発機構] (JP) and others.Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    An engineer did double duty as a polar bear lookout. Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    It is also one of the largest. The 100 antennas at the station, some as large as 42 feet in diameter, track more than 3,500 passes each day by several hundred satellites, including many Earth-observing ones that are essential for studying the impacts of climate change.

    Among them are the two active satellites for Landsat, the joint program of NASA and the United States Geological Survey that provides images of shrinking glaciers, changing forests, eroding coastlines and other symptoms of global warming.

    SvalSat tracks many other satellites as well, including those of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel program, which is similar to Landsat, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Suomi NPP spacecraft, which measures sea-surface temperatures, how much solar energy is being reflected by the Earth, and many other variables related to climate.

    These and other Earth-observing satellites are in polar orbits, circling from pole to pole roughly every hour and a half. Some of the orbits are sun-synchronous, meaning that the satellite passes over each point on the surface at the same time relative to the sun. This is especially useful for imaging satellites because the angle at which the sun is illuminating the Earth is consistent for every image.

    Satellites link to more than one ground station around the world to provide coverage throughout their orbits. But SvalSat’s high-latitude location gives it an advantage over others, said Maja-Stina Ekstedt, the station’s director.

    Maja-Stina Ekstedt has worked at SvalSat for 10 years and is the first female director of the ground station. Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    A team member ran tests on a newly installed antenna.

    Finn-Aage Sivertsen, the station’s chief engineer, took measurements for a new antenna.

    Because of Earth’s rotation, a station at the Equator, say, which might have been aligned with a satellite’s orbit when the satellite was crossing the pole, would have rotated far to the west, out of sight of the spacecraft, by the time it passed overhead.

    Being at such a high latitude, however, SvalSat would have rotated relatively little, remaining within range. The station can connect with a polar-orbiting satellite on each of the 15 or so passes it typically makes every day.

    “That’s the unique thing about Svalbard,” Ms. Ekstedt said. “We can download data, and send commands to it, every time it passes.”

    As a result, the station downloads a lot of data, which is carried under the sea to the Norwegian mainland by fiber-optic cables.

    SvalSat has a control room for managing the antennas, some of which handle passes by different satellites just minutes apart, and for sending and receiving signals. A control room in Tromso, a Norwegian port 500 miles to the south that is home to the company that runs SvalSat, Kongsberg Satellite Services, can operate the station as well. (The company runs about 100 ground stations around the world, including another high-latitude one, Troll, on the Antarctic coast that is smaller and can’t transmit data at high speed.)

    Inside one of the antenna domes. Credit: Anna Filipova for The New York Times.

    A dome was installed over a new antenna.

    Ms. Ekstedt manages a staff of about 40 who operate the antennas and repair and maintain equipment. While the domes are transparent to radio waves, snow can degrade the signals. So, in a location that averages about 170 days with snow a year, clearing the outside of the domes is a frequent task.

    The weather can affect access to the station itself, as well. Although it’s only about six miles to the center of Longyearbyen, the station is at the end of a long steep road.

    “Just to drive here it can be quite interesting,” Ms. Ekstedt said. “Every day during winter we watch the weather very closely due to challenging driving conditions and avalanche danger.” If heavy snow builds up on the road, all but those operating the satellites may evacuate from the site before the road becomes completely impassable. Occasionally workers have to be airlifted by helicopter.

    Ms. Ekstedt and her family have lived in Longyearbyen for a decade. Although it has a population of only 2,500, there are a lot of cultural activities and practically limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. “We’re a bit spoiled up here,” she said.

    And they are working at a place that plays an important role supporting science. “It’s really amazing to understand what you are part of,” Ms. Ekstedt said, “when you know what all these images and data are used for in the world.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 12:58 pm on May 31, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "More Than a Third of Heat Deaths Are Tied to Climate Change Study Says", , Clmate Change, , The New York Times   

    From The New York Times : “More Than a Third of Heat Deaths Are Tied to Climate Change Study Says” 

    From The New York Times

    May 31, 2021
    John Schwartz

    Sweeping new research found that heat-related deaths in warm seasons were boosted by climate change by an average of 37 percent.

    Cool drinks were distributed on a New Delhi roadside in 2017.Credit: Tsering Topgyal/Associated Press.

    More than a third of heat-related deaths in many parts of the world can be attributed to the extra warming associated with climate change, according to a new study Nature Climate Change that makes a case for taking strong action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect public health.

    The sweeping new research, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, was conducted by 70 researchers using data from major projects in the fields of epidemiology and climate modeling in 43 countries. It found that heat-related deaths in warm seasons were boosted by climate change by an average of 37 percent, in a range of a 20 percent increase to 76 percent.

    Some earlier studies have performed similar analysis for individual cities during particular heat waves, but the new paper applies these ideas to hundreds of locations and across decades to draw broader conclusions.

    “It is a thoughtful, insightful, clever approach to try to understand how climate change is altering heat-related mortality,” said Kristie L. Ebi, a professor in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington (US) who was not involved in the study.

    The planet has already warmed one degree Celsius over preindustrial times, and much more warming is predicted, with catastrophic results, if global emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane can’t be brought under control.

    “Taken together, our findings demonstrate that a substantial proportion of total and heat-related deaths during our study period can be attributed to human-induced climate change,” the authors wrote.

    In many locations studied, the scientists found, “the attributable mortality is already on the order of dozens to hundreds of deaths each year” from heat attributed to climate change. Climate change has added to overall mortality from all causes by as much as 5 percent in some parts of the world, the authors found; they detected increased mortality from climate-boosted heat on every inhabited continent.

    While the differences in mortality among the places studied are complex and spring from varied factors that include access to health care as well as architecture, urban density and lifestyle, the research indirectly suggests a divide between rich and poor regions. North America and East Asia, the researchers found, tended toward a smaller proportion of climate-related deaths; some Central and South American nations saw a greater than 70 percent proportion of heat deaths attributable to warming.

    The new paper comes amid a rush of recent research on heat stress and economic inequality, both in the United States [Nature Communications] and across the globe.

    While people around the world are increasingly reliant on air-conditioning, which could be holding down death rates while contributing to the emissions that heat the planet, climate change is also disrupting power grids, with failures increasing by 60 percent since 2015 in the United States alone. That means that the crutch of air conditioning could become less reliable over time.

    Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, the lead author of the new paper and a researcher at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said that the study showed that climate change was not just a problem for the future. “We are thinking about these problems of climate change as something that the next generation will face,” she said. “It’s something we are facing already. We are throwing stones at ourselves.”

    The future looks even more grim, she added. “This burden will amplify,” she said. “Really, we need to do something.”

    Dr. Ebi agreed. “Climate change is already affecting our health,” she said, noting that “essentially, all heat-related deaths are preventable.” Much depends on decisions, she said; communities must adapt to heat through measures like cooling centers and heat action plans to help those most vulnerable. She added, “In the long term, there are lots of choices that will affect our future vulnerability, including reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Because the scientists were unable to gather reliable data in some parts of the world, including parts of Africa and South Asia, Dr. Vicedo-Cabrera was reluctant to say that the mortality average the researchers found could be applied worldwide. “This estimate that we obtained cannot be applied to areas that we did not assess.”

    Those gaps need to be filled, a commentary published alongside the paper argued. “The countries where we do not have the necessary health data are often among the poorest and most susceptible to climate change, and, concerningly, are also the projected major hot spots of future population growth,” the commentary said. “Obtaining these data will be key for science to provide the information needed to help these countries adapt.”

    The author of the commentary, Dann Mitchell, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol, said in an interview that the increased burden of climate change-boosted heat waves on societies like India, where many people already live in crowded conditions and poverty, and where health services are already strained, could create “something that’s not sustainable.”

    “It’s going to crack at some point,” he said.

    See the full article here .


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    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 12:10 pm on May 4, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Life and Death on the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" Stromboli’s volcano, , The New York Times,   

    From The New York Times : “Life and Death on the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean” Stromboli’s volcano 

    From The New York Times

    May 4, 2021
    Photographs and Video by Gaia Squarci
    Text by Robin George Andrews

    If you stand at the summit at night, and you turn your flashlight off, all you can see are diamantine flecks shimmering in the dark. In that moment, you are floating, untethered, in an endless inky pool. The inevitable rumblings of the blackened earth beneath your feet eventually remind you that you remain on this planet. And when a jet of incandescent molten rock shoots skyward and illuminates the land like a flare, you feel as if you are staring down a dragon.

    For those seeking to experience the raw and almost preternatural power of a volcano, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Stromboli, northwest of the toe of Italy’s boot and aptly known as the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.

    Rising a mere 3,000 feet above the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the seemingly diminutive volcanic isle is famed for its near-continuous summit explosions. Most volcanoes spend much of their lifetime in a state of quiescence, but Stromboli bucks that trend. “It’s always active,” said Maurizio Ripepe, a geophysicist at the University of Florence [Università degli Studi di Firenze] (IT). “I always say it’s the most reliable thing in Italy. It’s not like the trains.”

    The seemingly diminutive volcanic isle of Stromboli is famed for its near-continuous summit explosions.

    Visitors and guides climbing at night on the volcano. After two paroxysmal volcanic explosions in 2019, hiking to the summit was forbidden.

    Beatrice Fassi, from Bergamo, picking wild vegetables on a volcanic slope of the island. She has lived on Stromboli since 1997.

    Stromboli is also home to a few hundred full-time residents. Their relationship with the volcano is largely cordial. Its regular explosive activity is confined to the summit, and a slope named the Sciara del Fuoco (“Stream of Fire”) harmlessly funnels superheated debris into the sea. The frequent window-rattling booms have become barely noticeable background noise, while its effervescence has proved highly attractive to paying tourists.

    But the volcano is capable of acts of utter devastation. Rare but especially fierce blasts have killed people both at the summit and on its slopes. That danger makes Stromboli a resplendent place punctuated with moments of terror. Gaia Squarci, a photographer and videographer who first visited the island when she was 17, said that there is always “a calm, with a tension underneath.”

    Stromboli’s main cemetery.

    Stefano Oliva, a Strombolian who oversees several construction sites on the island.

    Maurizio Ripepe, a geophysicist at the University of Florence in Italy, holds a piece of pumice from Stromboli.

    A beacon for measuring tsunami waves installed off the shore of the Sciara del Fuoco (“Stream of Fire”), a slope that funnels superheated debris into the sea.

    Everyone has a unique relationship with this paradoxical landscape. Scientists approach Stromboli as detectives. They hope to understand how it works by investigating its various viscera, a task aided by both its hyperactivity and its easy accessibility. “There are not so many volcanoes that you can go up to the summit, you work all day long, then you are only one hour from beer, pizza, good food,” said Dr. Ripepe.

    Small explosions rock Stromboli’s summit all the time. Although a safe environment to work in for the most part, scientists are acutely aware that the volcano is capable of unleashing more potent explosions. These blasts, referred to as paroxysms, are considered to be a major threat. If they are powerful enough to dislodge part of the volcano, some can even trigger tsunamis.

    Although the volcano has been relatively calm during the past half-century, the last few years have seen a return to violent form. In July 2019, a paroxysm killed a hiker and injured several others. The next month, another shook the island, but fortunately no one died that time. The authorities, fearing further paroxysms, subsequently closed the summit to visitors.

    Jacopo Crimi, originally from Milan, was often brought to the island as a child by his parents. Today, he lives there, helping scientists present and share their work with their peers, clients and the general public. He describes living on Stromboli as a bit like being on one of the miniature planets in the universe of The Little Prince, the story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry where the eponymous boy visits a number of lonely worlds.

    Mr. Crimi says residents get to know the volcano, and its personality, as if it were a living thing. “It’s strange. It’s like a person,” he said. “You really miss it when you leave here. You feel lost.”

    Travelers will always want to visit the island too, because erupting volcanoes provide a spectacle like no other. “We love danger, in some ways. It lets us feel immortal,” Mr. Crimi said. “It brings fear and joy together.”

    Jacopo Crimi, project manager for science dissemination from Milan, at home on Stromboli.

    Solidified lava at Punta Restuccia, a volcanic cliff.

    Tracks in the red ash on the streets after the Nov. 16 eruption.

    The human presence makes volcanologists nervous. The volcano is nearly two miles tall, but only the uppermost part is above water. “They’re not living at the base of the volcano,” said Dr. Ripepe. “They’re living at the top of the volcano,” right next to its magmatic maw. No one on the island is far from harm’s way.

    The overarching goal of the science of volcanology is to detect warning signs of an eruption, allowing anyone in danger to protect themselves. Volcanoes usually twitch and convulse before an eruption, but some dangerous phenomena give no discernible fanfare. For example, a pressure cooker-like bomb of underground water exploded without warning on New Zealand’s Whakaari/White Island volcano on Dec. 9, 2019, killing 22 visitors.

    Stromboli’s eternal effervescence makes it a fantastic natural laboratory to trial attempts at eruption forecasting. Could the island’s own explosions, which happen rather suddenly, be seen coming?

    An Ape car, used to get around the island. There are no lights on the streets of Stromboli.

    The volcano’s peak under the light of a full moon.

    It’s known that many volcanoes inflate when magma rises into them. This doesn’t always mean an eruption is forthcoming, but sometimes it does. Stromboli is no exception.

    Devices that measure the changing shape of the volcano have been recording its metamorphosis for two decades. And scientists have noticed Stromboli inflates not at random, but every time the volcano is about to explode.

    The inflation in this case appears to happen when the gases dissolved in the ascending magma escape into a lower pressure environment within the volcano’s shallow conduit, the esophagus-like passageway to the surface. Despite the erratic nature of Stromboli, “there is a rule in the chaos,” Dr. Ripepe said.

    The scientists’ discovery was published in the journal Nature Communications in March, but an early warning system based on their data has been up and running since October 2019. If the volcano inflates in a way that indicates a paroxysm is coming, an automated alert is sent to the civil authorities and volcanologists, who then activate a series of sirens.

    From the moment the signal is detected, everyone has up to 10 minutes to react before the paroxysm arrives. That may be sufficient to save the lives of many, either from the paroxysm itself or any subsequent tsunami. But it’s not a panacea. “If you are at the summit, there is no way to survive,” said Dr. Ripepe. Either the explosion’s shock wave will crush your internal organs, or the hot ash and gas will asphyxiate you. He and his colleagues are now hoping to find other precursors that will give people hours to get to safety.

    Deciphering the complex series of grumbles and twitches exhibited by volcanoes in the run up to an eruption is rarely straightforward. But when efforts to identify precursors to volcanic violence are successful, it can provide salvation.

    Take La Soufrière, a volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, as an example. It had been erupting in a calm and harmless manner since last December. But suspicious seismic activity in late March and early April was interpreted by scientists as a sign that something explosive was on its way. They convinced the government to order an evacuation of tens of thousands of people living in the volcano’s shadow on April 8. The very next day, the first in a series of catastrophic blasts rocked La Soufrière. Thanks to that early warning and subsequent exodus, no lives were lost to the volcano’s rage.

    Dr. Ripepe in the field.

    A cloud of ashes rose nearly 3,000 feet over the volcano’s peak on Nov. 16, 2020.

    One of the acoustic warning systems for eruptions and tsunamis near the Strombolian port.

    No matter what advances are made in eruption forecasting, Stromboli, like all volcanoes, remains capable of surprising everyone. “It’s humbling, the fact that we can get better and better at predicting patterns of behavior, but there will always be a high degree of unpredictability,” said Ms. Squarci.

    According to Mr. Crimi, plenty of Stromboli’s longtime residents, including those who rely on tourism for their income, don’t want to engage with volcanologists, as they are seen to challenge the island-wide illusion that the volcano can do no harm.

    But for some, the knowledge that the specter of death always exists is a thing of counterintuitive beauty. Scientists can try to comprehend Stromboli, but nothing they will do will alter the volcano’s actions.

    “The volcano wrote the chapters of the island’s history,” said Ms. Squarci — and it will be the author of the island’s future, too.

    A volcanic explosion is seen at dusk on Stromboli.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:06 am on March 30, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Hunting Ghost Particles Beneath the World’s Deepest Lake", A neutrino-spotting telescope beneath Russia’s frozen Lake Baikal in Russia is close to delivering scientific results after four decades of setbacks., , Lake Baikal Neutrino Telescope (RU), , , The New York Times   

    From The New York Times : “Hunting Ghost Particles Beneath the World’s Deepest Lake” 

    From The New York Times

    March 30, 2021
    Anton Troianovski
    Photographs by Sergey Ponomarev

    A neutrino-spotting telescope beneath Russia’s frozen Lake Baikal in Russia is close to delivering scientific results after four decades of setbacks.

    Scientists register a light-detecting sphere, one of 36 to be submerged 2,300 feet below the surface of Lake Baikal in Russia, as part of an underwater neutrino detector that is under construction.

    ON LAKE BAIKAL, Russia — A glass orb, the size of a beach ball, plops into a hole in the ice and descends on a metal cable toward the bottom of the world’s deepest lake.

    Then another, and another.

    These light-detecting orbs come to rest suspended in the pitch-dark depths down as far as 4,000 feet below the surface. The cable carrying them holds 36 such orbs, spaced 50 feet apart. There are 64 such cables, held in place by anchors and buoys, two miles off the jagged southern coast of this lake in Siberia with a bottom that is more than a mile down.

    This is a telescope, the largest of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere, built to explore black holes, distant galaxies and the remnants of exploded stars. It does so by searching for neutrinos, cosmic particles so tiny that many trillions pass through each of us every second.

    Cosmic rays produced by high-energy astrophysics sources (ASPERA collaboration AStroParticle ERAnet).

    If only we could learn to read the messages they bear, scientists believe, we could chart the universe, and its history, in ways we cannot yet fully fathom.

    “You should never miss the chance to ask nature any question,” said Grigori V. Domogatski, 80, a Russian physicist who has led the quest to build this underwater telescope for 40 years.

    After a pause, he added: “You never know what answer you will get.”

    It is still under construction, but the telescope that Dr. Domogatski and other scientists have long dreamed of is closer than ever to delivering results. And this hunt for neutrinos from the far reaches of the cosmos, spanning eras in geopolitics and in astrophysics, sheds light on how Russia has managed to preserve some of the scientific prowess that characterized the Soviet Union — as well as the limitations of that legacy.

    The Lake Baikal venture is not the only effort to hunt for neutrinos in the world’s most remote places. Dozens of instruments seek the particles in specialized laboratories all over the planet. But the new Russian project will be an important complement to the work of IceCube, the world’s largest neutrino telescope, an American-led, $279 million project that encompasses about a quarter of a cubic mile of ice in Antarctica.

    U Wisconsin IceCube Neutrino Observatory(US) neutrino detector at the at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica South Pole, elevation of 2,835 metres (9,301 feet).

    Grigori V. Domogatski, a Russian physicist, has led the quest to build the observatory for 40 years.

    The telescope sits two miles off the southern coast of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The bottom of the lake is more than a mile down, making it the deepest lake in the world.

    Yevgeny Pliskovsky, a scientist, monitoring data from a building on Lake Baikal’s shore.

    Using a grid of light detectors similar to the Lake Baikal Neutrino Telescope (RU), IceCube identified a neutrino in 2017 that scientists said almost certainly came from a supermassive black hole. It was the first time that scientists had pinpointed a source of the rain of high-energy particles from space known as cosmic rays — a breakthrough for neutrino astronomy, a branch that remains in its infancy.

    The field’s practitioners believe that as they learn to read the universe using neutrinos, they could make new, unexpected discoveries — much as the lensmakers who first developed the telescope could not have imagined that Galileo would later use it to discover the moons of Jupiter.

    “It’s like looking at the sky at night, and seeing one star,” Francis L. Halzen, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison(US), and the director of IceCube, said in a telephone interview, describing the current state of the hunt for the ghostly particles.

    Early work by Soviet scientists helped inspire Dr. Halzen in the 1980s to build a neutrino detector in the Antarctic ice. Now, Dr. Halzen says his team believes it may have found two additional sources of neutrinos arriving from deep in space — but it is difficult to be certain, because no one else has detected them. He hopes that will change in the coming years as the Baikal telescope expands.

    “We have to be superconservative because nobody, at the moment, can check what we are doing,” Dr. Halzen said. “It’s exciting for me to have another experiment to interact with and to exchange data with.”

    In the 1970s, despite the Cold War, the Americans and the Soviets were working together to plan a first deep water neutrino detector off the coast of Hawaii. But after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Soviets were kicked out of the project. So, in 1980, the Institute for Nuclear Research[институт ядерных исследований institut yadernykh issledovaniy](RU) in Moscow started its own neutrino-telescope effort, led by Dr. Domogatski. The place to try seemed obvious, although it was about 2,500 miles away: Baikal.

    The project did not get far beyond planning and design before the Soviet Union collapsed, throwing many of the country’s scientists into poverty and their efforts into disarray. But an institute outside Berlin, which soon became part of Germany’s DESY Electron Synchrotron[ Deütsches Elektronen-Synchrotron](DE) particle research center, joined the Baikal effort.

    Christian Spiering, who led the German team, recalls shipping hundreds of pounds of butter, sugar, coffee and sausage to sustain the annual winter expeditions onto the Baikal ice. He also brought to Moscow thousands of dollars’ worth of cash to supplement the Russians’ meager salaries.

    Dr. Domogatski and his team persisted. When a Lithuanian electronics maker refused to accept rubles as payment, one of the physicists negotiated to pay with a train car full of cedar wood, Dr. Spiering recalls.

    In a conversation with Dr. Spiering, Dr. Domogatski once compared his scientists to the frog in a Russian proverb that fell in a vat of milk and had only one way to survive: “It’s got to keep moving, until the milk turns to butter.”

    The rising sun over Lake Baikal. Three feet of ice cover the lake in winter, an ideal platform for installing an underwater photomultiplier array.

    Buoys wait to be paired with the spherical light detectors before being submerged beneath the ice.

    By the mid 1990s, the Russian team had managed to identify “atmospheric” neutrinos — those produced by collisions in Earth’s atmosphere — but not ones arriving from outer space. It would need a bigger detector for that. As Russia started to reinvest in science in the 2000s under President Vladimir V. Putin, Dr. Domogatski managed to secure more than $30 million in funding to build a new Baikal telescope as big as IceCube.

    The lake is as much as a mile deep, with some of the clearest fresh water in the world, and a czarist-era railroad conveniently skirts the southern shore. Most important, it is covered by a three-foot-thick sheet of ice in the winter: nature’s ideal platform for installing an underwater photomultiplier array.

    “It’s as if Baikal is made for this type of research,” said Bair Shaybonov, a researcher on the project.

    Construction began in 2015, and a first phase encompassing 2,304 light-detecting orbs suspended in the depths is scheduled to be completed by the time the ice melts in April. (The orbs remain suspended in the water year-round, watching for neutrinos and sending data to the scientists’ lakeshore base by underwater cable.) The telescope has been collecting data for years, but Russia’s minister of science, Valery N. Falkov, plunged a chain saw into the ice as part of a made-for-television opening ceremony this month.

    The Baikal telescope looks down, through the entire planet, out the other side, toward the center of our galaxy and beyond, essentially using Earth as a giant sieve. For the most part, larger particles hitting the opposite side of the planet eventually collide with atoms. But almost all neutrinos — 100 billion of which pass through your fingertip every second — continue, essentially, on a straight line.

    Yet when a neutrino, exceedingly rarely, hits an atomic nucleus in the water, it produces a cone of blue light called Čerenkov radiation. The effect was discovered by the Soviet physicist Pavel A. Čerenkov, one of Dr. Domogatski’s former colleagues down the hall at his institute in Moscow.

    If you spend years monitoring a billion tons of deep water for unimaginably tiny flashes of Čerenkov light, many physicists believe, you will eventually find neutrinos that can be traced back to cosmic conflagrations that emitted them billions of light-years away.

    The orientation of the blue cones even reveals the precise direction from which the neutrinos that caused them came. By not having an electrical charge, neutrinos are not affected by interstellar and intergalactic magnetic fields and other influences that scramble the paths of other types of cosmic particles, such as protons and electrons. Neutrinos go as straight through the universe as Einsteinian gravity will allow.

    That is what makes neutrinos so valuable to the study of the universe’s earliest, most distant and most violent events. And they could help elucidate other mysteries, such as what happens when stars far more massive than the sun collapse into a superdense ball of neutrons roughly 12 miles across — emitting huge quantities of neutrinos.

    Despite the project’s significance, it operates on a modest budget, with almost all of the roughly 60 scientists spending February and March at their camp in Baikal, installing and repairing its components.

    “It travels the universe, colliding with practically nothing and no one,” Dr. Domogatski said of the neutrino. “For it, the universe is a transparent world.”

    Because it essentially looks through the planet, the Baikal telescope studies the sky of the Southern Hemisphere. That makes it a complement to IceCube in Antarctica, along with a European project in the Mediterranean that is at an earlier phase of construction.

    “We need an equivalent to IceCube in the Northern Hemisphere,” said Dr. Spiering, who remains involved in both the IceCube and Baikal projects.

    Dr. Domogatski says that his team is already exchanging data with neutrino hunters elsewhere, and that it has found evidence backing up IceCube’s conclusions about neutrinos arriving from outer space. Still, he acknowledges that the Baikal project is lagging far behind others in developing the computer software necessary to identify neutrinos in close to real time.

    Despite the project’s significance, it is still operating on a shoestring budget — almost all of the roughly 60 scientists working on the telescope usually spend February and March at their camp in Baikal, installing and repairing its components. IceCube, by contrast, involves some 300 scientists, most of whom have never been to the South Pole.

    These days, Dr. Domogatski no longer joins the annual winter expeditions to Baikal. But he still works out of the same Soviet-era institute where he kept his neutrino dream afloat through Communism, the chaotic 1990s and more than two decades of Mr. Putin’s rule.

    “If you take on a project, you must understand that you have to realize it in any conditions that come up,” Dr. Domogatski said, banging on his desk for emphasis. “Otherwise, there’s no point in even starting.”

    The Search for Neutrinos

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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