Tag Archives: science

Cassini’s last close look at Titan

Titan's magic lake district

The Cassini science team has released the last radar swath that the spacecraft will take of Titan, imaged on April 22.

You can see the full swath up close here. The image above is my crop of the section on the swath’s right portion, showing the shoreline of the hydrocarbon lake Ligeia Mare, where periodically an island has been seen by radar to intermittently appear and disappear.

No “island” feature was observed during this pass. Scientists continue to work on what the transient feature might have been, with waves and bubbles being two possibilities.

The fly-by also took the first, and last, depth measurement of 8 other lakes, finding that they all had the same depth, suggesting they are connected by an underground “water” table. In this case, it ain’t water, but liquid hydrocarbons like methane.


Unexpected big storm on Neptune

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers have spotted a new very big storm on Neptune, occurring unexpectedly near the plane’s equator.

A large, high-pressure vortex system deep within Neptune’s atmosphere is thought to drive the white storm clouds. As methane gases rise up in the vortex, they cool below the condensation temperature, forming clouds in the same way that water vapor does on Earth.

The location of the vortex caught astronomers by surprise, though. “Historically, bright clouds have occasionally been seen on Neptune, but usually at latitudes closer to the poles, around 10 to 60 degrees north or south” says de Pater. “Never before has a cloud been seen at, nor close to the equator, or anything so bright.”

Neptune is the windiest planet in the solar system, with observed equatorial wind speeds of up to 1,000 miles per hour (450 m/s). Since wind speeds vary drastically with latitude, a storm crossing more than 30° of latitude should quickly break apart. Something, such as an underlying vortex, must be holding it together. But a long-lasting vortex right at the equator would be hard to reconcile with our current understanding of the planet’s atmosphere.

I think any theory about Neptune’s weather should treated with a great deal of skepticism. I am sure the theories are based on what is known, but what is known is very little. Until we have been able to observe this gas giant up close and for decades, our understanding of its weather is going to be sketchy, at best.


Chinese engineers and astronomers fight over new telescope design

A dispute over the design of a new Chinese optical telescope has broken out between the astronomers who will use it and the engineers who will build it.

In April, an international committee convened by [Chinese Academy of Science’s] Center for Astronomical Mega-Science, which is responsible for the project, reviewed the competing designs and recommended the three-mirror option [the preference of astronomer Jiansheng Chen and China’s astronomers]. On 10 July, [Xiangqun Cui, the instrument’s chief engineer] organized her own review committee that picked the SYZ design as better. Cui’s panel “leaned toward one side,” Chen says. And one member says that the three-mirror design was not sufficiently presented, partly because no one from the Huazhong team was there. Cui and Su explain in their open letter that a member of their own group who knows it well introduced the Huazhong design. “Members were repeatedly reminded they could abstain from voting,” they write. One-third of the 21 committee members did abstain.

Meanwhile, to date, more than 130 young astronomers have signed an open letter to the astronomical community urging that the recommendations of the international panel be respected.

The fundamental disagreement, according to Chen, is “whether a large science project should be technically or scientifically oriented.” Cui and Su say the choice is between incorporating “rapidly developing new technologies” that ensure a long life for the facility, or “simply replicating a 10-meter telescope built 30 years ago.”

This spat reinforces the impression gained from the recent other story about China’s inability to find a manager for its newly built radio telescope. Its top-down management approach (where decisions are made by well-connected powerful bureaucrats at the top of the chain of command) produces office politics that generally does not lead to good technical decisions.


Mars rover update: August 11, 2017

Summary: After a two week hiatus because the Sun was between the Earth and Mars and blocking communications, both rovers are once again on the move.


For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity panorama, Sol 1782

Vera Rubin Ridge close-up

Since my last update on July 12,, Curiosity spent most of the month waiting out the solar conjunction that placed the Sun between the Earth and Mars and blocked communications. In the past few days, however, the rover has begun to send down images again while resuming its journey up Mt. Sharp. The panorama above, reduced to show here, was taken by the rover’s left navigation camera, and shows the mountain, the ridge, and the route the rover will take to circle around the steepest sections to get up onto the ridge. To see the full resolution panorama click on the picture.

To the right is a full resolution section of the area in the white box. As you can see, the geology of the ridge is many-layered, with numerous vertical seams or cracks. In order to track the geological changes across these layers as the rover climbs, the science team is as expected taking a systematic approach.

Lately, one of our biggest science objectives is to conduct bedrock APXS measurements with every 5-meter climb in elevation. This allows us to systematically analyze geochemical changes in the Murray formation as we continue to climb Mount Sharp. Yesterday’s drive brought us 6 meters higher in elevation, so another touch and go for today it is!

Below is a cropped and reduced resolution image of the most recent orbital traverse image, dated sol 1754. The dotted line shows where I think the rover’s has traveled in the last 28 sols. I have also annotated what I think is the point of view of the panorama above.
» Read more


First very short movie from Jupiter

Using two Juno images of the same area, taken at slightly different times, scientists have produced what might be the first very short gif animation showing the changing circulation patterns in Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The animation is only two images long, so in a sense it isn’t a movie but a blink comparison. Moreover, the difference in circulation patterns between the two images is not strongly evident, partly because the two images have different resolution and somewhat different lighting. Nonetheless, this animation foretells what will should become possible with time, as Juno’s mission continues. Eventually its images will show the changes in the gas giant’s storms.


Cassini’s last five orbits of Saturn

Cassini is about to begin its last of five orbits of Saturn, before it is sent into the planet’s atmosphere to burn up.

Cassini will make the first of these five passes over Saturn at 12:22 a.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 14. The spacecraft’s point of closest approach to Saturn during these passes will be between about 1,010 and 1,060 miles (1,630 and 1,710 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops.

The spacecraft is expected to encounter atmosphere dense enough to require the use of its small rocket thrusters to maintain stability – conditions similar to those encountered during many of Cassini’s close flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan, which has its own dense atmosphere. “Cassini’s Titan flybys prepared us for these rapid passes through Saturn’s upper atmosphere,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. “Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict.”


A Martian Journey

The exploration of the solar system has barely begun. Though we regularly get to see some spectacular images taken by the fleet of unmanned planetary probes that now circle or rove the various planets throughout the solar system, we mustn’t think we have seen very much. In truth, we have only gotten a very distant glimpse of only a few tiny spots, most of which have been viewed from very far away. Even at the highest resolution the images do not really tell us what it really will be like when we can stroll across those surfaces routinely.

To give you an idea of how much remains hidden, let’s take a journey inward from Mars orbit. The image below looks down on a good portion of the Martian globe, with the giant volcano Olympus Mons on the left, its three companion volcanoes in line to the east, and the vast valley of Valles Marineris east of these. This valley would cover the continental United States almost entirely, and extend significantly beyond into the oceans on either side.

Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris

This was essentially our first good look at Mars, taken from orbit by Mariner 9 in 1971.
» Read more


Sunspot update for July 2017

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for July. As I have done every month since 2010, the graph is posted below, with annotations.

July 2017 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

Sunspot activity in July remained almost exactly the same as in both May and June. This is the first indication that this cycle’s ramp down from solar maximum will follow the standard pattern of a slow and extended decline to minimum. Up until now the drop in sunspot activity has been as fast as the increase during ramp up. Historically the ramp down has instead been slower, sloping downward gently and over a much longer time period. The last few months suggest that this cycle’s end is beginning to resemble past cycles.

Meanwhile, a review of past solar cycles by German scientists suggests that a cyclical cooling period in the Sun’s output is coming, and that such ups and downs can be tracked in the solar record.

In order to elucidate the solar influence, we have used a large number of temperature proxies worldwide to construct a global temperature mean G7 over the last 2000 years. The Fourier spectrum of G7 shows the strongest components as ~1000-, ~460-, and ~190 – year periods whereas other cycles of the individual proxies are considerably weaker. The G7 temperature extrema coincide with the Roman, medieval, and present optima as well as the well-known minimum of AD 1450 during the Little Ice Age. We note that the temperature increase of the late 19th and 20th century is represented by the harmonic temperature representation, and thus is of pure multiperiodic nature. It can be expected that the periodicity of G7, lasting 2000 years so far, will persist also for the foreseeable future. It predicts a temperature drop from present to AD 2050, a slight rise from 2050 to 2130, and a further drop from AD 2130 to 2200. [emphasis mine]

Note that this prediction is not based on any real understanding of the Sun’s sunspot cycle or what causes any variations in its brightness. All they have done is extrapolate into the future the patterns of past fluctuations. This is as if a weatherman averaged how many times it normally rains in your town, and then predicted rain in the next few days merely by those averages. “It rains on average every three days, so because it rained yesterday expect no rain for the next two days!”

Nonetheless, the past fluctuations seem to follow a cyclical pattern, and thus also appear to confirm other studies that suggest we are heading towards another grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades, which also in the past corresponded with cooler global temperatures.


Looking down at Saturn’s rings

Looking down at Saturn's rings

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to show here, was taken by Cassini in May and looks down at the outer rings of Saturn. The moon Prometheus can also be seen in the large gap between the main rings and the outermost F ring.

Most of the small moon’s surface is in darkness due to the viewing geometry here. Cassini was positioned behind Saturn and Prometheus with respect to the sun, looking toward the moon’s dark side and just a bit of the moon’s sunlit northern hemisphere.

Also visible here is a distinct difference in brightness between the outermost section of Saturn’s A ring (left of center) and rest of the ring, interior to the Keeler Gap (lower left).

The image clearly shows the gravitational influence of the moon on the outer ring. As Prometheus orbits past the F ring its mass creates waves through the ring’s materials.


One of Jupiter’s mid-sized storms

One of Jupiter's mid-sized storms

Cool image time! The Juno image on the right, cropped to show here, focuses in on one of Jupiter’s mid-sized storms near its high northern latitudes and just on the edge of the chaotic polar region.

This storm is a long-lived anticyclonic oval named North North Temperate Little Red Spot 1 (NN-LRS-1); it has been tracked at least since 1993, and may be older still. An anticyclone is a weather phenomenon where winds around the storm flow in the direction opposite to that of the flow around a region of low pressure. It is the third largest anticyclonic oval on the planet, typically around 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) long. The color varies between red and off-white (as it is now), but this JunoCam image shows that it still has a pale reddish core within the radius of maximum wind speeds.

Be sure to take a look at the full image, which provides a bit of context.


MU69 is not round

New data about 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object that New Horizons plans to fly past on January 1, 2019, suggests that it is either elongated or made of two objects almost touching.

Recent observations suggest that the rock is no more than 20 miles long, and its shape is not round or elliptical, like most space rocks. Instead, the icy body is either shaped like a stretched football, called an “extreme prolate spheroid,” or like two rocks joined together. That creates a rubber ducky shape similar to the comet that the European Space Agency landed on two years ago.

It’s even possible that the object is, in fact, two objects — like a pair of rocks that are orbiting around each other, or are so close that they’re touching. If 2014 MU69 does turn out to be two objects, then each one is probably between nine and 12 miles in diameter, according to the New Horizons team.

I predict that this object will be even weirder in shape that predicted. The low gravity in the Kuiper Belt almost guarantees it.


New images downloaded from Curiosity for the first time in two weeks

For the first time since communications with Mars ceased two weeks ago because the orbits of the Earth and Mars had placed the Sun in between, new images have been downloaded from Curiosity.

For the past two weeks, the last raw images posted had been from sol 1760. Today, the Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) added daily images through sol 1774 (taken as per previously uploaded commands). The images all show the same view, the part of Vera Rubin ridge that the rover has been circling around to get to the place where it will be easier to climb up. The science team probably programmed this sequence so that they could look for any changes from wind, over time.

No new images from either Curiosity’s other cameras or from Opportunity have yet appeared, but I expect this to soon change.


Hawaiian protesters fail to block mirror for solar telescope

The coming dark age: Protesters today tried, and failed, to block the delivery of the primary mirror of a new solar telescope being built on top of Haleakalā on the island of Maui.

Protesters chanted, sang, marched, and blocked the road with two bamboo altars on which they presented offerings of flowers and garlands in a traditional ceremony. Police stood by for about an hour, periodically coming forward to talk with protest organizers.

At 4 a.m., they moved in to clear the road. Protesters were lying down in the road with their arms linked. Police lifted them out of the way to allow the trucks to pass. Several men then rushed forward and threw themselves in front of and under the massive trucks. Police removed the men, along with several others, as protesters shouted, “auwe” (alas), and “shame.” Organizers say three men and two women were arrested.

I think this quote from one of the protest organizers (who happens to be an assistant professor of Hawaiian Studies & Language at the University of Hawaii, epitomizes their movement:

Earlier in the evening, organizer Kahele Dukelow vowed to continue to oppose future construction and to ultimately bring existing telescopes down. “This struggle is going to go on for generations. It’s not going to stop with us,” she told protesters. “We will never accept it.”

Apparently the idea of gaining knowledge about the universe is unacceptable to this college professor and her allies. Such knowledge is evil, and must be blocked at all cost. The only knowledge that matters is the ethnic race heritage of native Hawaiians, no matter how primitive and uncivilized.


Government officials expect disaster during eclipse

We’re all gonna die! According to this trashy Newsweek article, government officials are expecting disaster and societal collapse because a lot of people are going to travel to see the August 21 eclipse.

Here’s why many folks are planning for a disaster: Oregon has a population of 4 million people, and the eclipse is expected to draw 1 million visitors to the state for a few days. In Missouri, preparations resemble that for a blizzard or “everything from St. Patrick’s Day parade to a World Series celebration,” says Chris Hernandez, city spokesman for Kansas City, Missouri, one of the larger metro areas in the path of the eclipse.

All of those visitors are expected to clog interstates, along with state and local roads, for days before and after the eclipse, much like the rush during emergency evacuations, says Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross. “Some of these places are never going to see traffic like this,” he says. In some areas, “the population will be double or triple.”

Once visitors arrive, they’ll need bottles of water, lodging and restrooms. And, of course, solar glasses.

This fear-mongering reminds me of the Y2K bug. Somehow it was going to shut down society, something I thought was a load of hooey, and turned out to be exactly that, hooey. This Newsweek junk article is just more of the same.

Be prepared, exercise personal responsibility, and all will be well. The only ones who will have a problem will be people who take these articles too seriously.


Australian weather bureau caught tampering with temperatures

The weather bureau in Australia has been caught tampering with temperatures measured by its weather stations, changing them so that cooler temperatures were warmer than what was actually measured.

Meteorologist Lance Pidgeon watched the 13 degrees Fahrenheit Goulburn recording from July 2 disappear from the bureau’s website. The temperature readings fluctuated briefly and then disappeared from the government’s website. “The temperature dropped to minus 10 (13 degrees Fahrenheit), stayed there for some time and then it changed to minus 10.4 (14 degrees Fahrenheit) and then it disappeared,” Pidgeon said, adding that he notified scientist Jennifer Marohasy about the problem, who then brought the readings to the attention of the bureau.

The bureau would later restore the original 13 degrees Fahrenheit reading after a brief question and answer session with Marohasy.

The bureau claimed that software had automatically and incorrectly thrown out the record-setting 13 degree temperature, and say they are reviewing that software now.

This story actually broke in early July, in Australia. I read the initial posts about it then, but somehow never got around to posting the story. When this story appeared today in the U.S. press, I didn’t report it initially because I thought I had already done so, but reader Keith Douglas’s request that I do a post forced me to search Behind the Black and discover that I had never reported it.

Regardless, it is worth reading the initial story from Australia, as it clearly documents what happened and shows that outright temperature tampering surely appears to be going on.


Global warming activists tremble as Trump administration reviews their work

This could be a victory: The science journal Nature today published a story, entitled “Fears rise as Trump officials take reins on US climate assessment”, which described the terror that is spreading through the global warming climate field because the Trump administration is bringing in skeptical scientists to review the work done by these government scientists.

Many climate scientists are particularly uneasy about the potential for interference by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of 13 agencies that must approve the science report before its expected release in November. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who rejects well-established climate science, has raised the possibility of organizing an adversarial ‘red team–blue team’ review of such research. And he has help from the Heartland Institute, a think tank in Chicago, Illinois, that promotes scepticism about climate change.

“We can’t allow science to be held hostage,” says Donald Wuebbles, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and co-chair of the report. “I’m hopeful it won’t get to that, because it would look really bad for the administration to fight this.”

Well, ain’t that just too damn bad! This fake scientist seems to think that his work is so pure it shouldn’t be challenged or peer reviewed. The Nature article at the link is itself an example of fake news, as the author never bothered to interview anyone from the Trump administration, or quote or name any of the skeptical scientists doing the reviewing, something that any good journalist specializing in this field should have no trouble identifying. Had he, he might have found the skepticism reasonable. In fact, the scientific method is founded on skepticism. To believe that your work should never be questioned only proves that you aren’t really a scientist at all.

Be prepared for a lot of squealing when these reviewers step in and request that this climate assessment get reworked to remove any global warming propaganda from it.


China punishes more than 500 scientists for peer review fraud

An investigation in China has revealed peer review fraud in more than 100 papers, causing that nation to discipline more than 500 researchers.

MOST’s 27 July announcement marked the culmination of an investigation into the mass retraction this past April of 107 papers by Chinese authors that appeared in a single journal, “Tumor Biology.” The papers, published between 2012 and 2016, were pulled after editors found “strong reason to believe that the peer review process was compromised,” Editor-in-Chief Torgny Stigbrand, of Umeå University in Sweden, wrote on 20 April on the website of the publisher Springer. (Springer, an arm of Springer Nature, published “Tumor Biology” until December 2016; the journal is now operated by SAGE Publications.)

Investigators say the authors engaged in an all-too-common scam. “Tumor Biology” allowed submitting authors to nominate reviewers. The Chinese authors suggested “experts” and provided email addresses that routed messages from the journal back to the researchers themselves, or to accomplices—sometimes third-party firms hired by the authors—who wrote glowing reviews that helped get the papers accepted.

As the article notes, the journal is as guilty as these fake scientists.

“Tumor Biology,” which is owned by the International Society of Oncology and BioMarkers, has a history of problems. In 2016 it retracted 25 papers all at once for similar peer-review problems. The journal now has the dubious distinction of having retracted “the most papers of any other journal,” according to Retraction Watch. An investigation by ScienceInsider found that several scientists listed on its editorial board had no relationship with the journal and one had even passed away several years ago. The journal “should also improve their examination system to prevent [abuse by] unscrupulous researchers,” Chen says.

SAGE took over responsibility for publishing the journal “with the agreement that there would be a complete overhaul of the editorial structure and peer review practices of the journal, specifically the use of preferred reviewers,” a SAGE spokesperson wrote in an email to ScienceInsider.

Not surprisingly, the article includes some whining about the harshness of China’s punishments. Of the more than 500 disciplined, 314 were merely co-authors on a paper, and had not directly participated in the fraud. The investigation concluded that they should have been more diligent and aware of what the lead authors were doing, a perfectly reasonable conclusion.


Sun’s core rotates 4X faster than surface

The uncertainties of science: Scientists have discovered that the core of the Sun rotates four times faster than its surface layers.

The rotation of the solar core may give a clue to how the sun formed. After the sun formed, the solar wind likely slowed the rotation of the outer part of the sun, he said. The rotation might also impact sunspots, which also rotate, Ulrich said. Sunspots can be enormous; a single sunspot can even be larger than the Earth.

The researchers studied surface acoustic waves in the sun’s atmosphere, some of which penetrate to the sun’s core, where they interact with gravity waves that have a sloshing motion similar to how water would move in a half-filled tanker truck driving on a curvy mountain road. From those observations, they detected the sloshing motions of the solar core. By carefully measuring the acoustic waves, the researchers precisely determined the time it takes an acoustic wave to travel from the surface to the center of the sun and back again. That travel time turns out to be influenced a slight amount by the sloshing motion of the gravity waves, Ulrich said.

This phenomenon had been predicted more than twenty years ago, but never observed until now.


The Great Red Spot

The Great Red Spot

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows one of the close-ups taken by Juno during its recent close fly-by of the Great Red Spot. What makes it different is its colors.

This image of Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Björn Jónsson using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This true-color image offers a natural color rendition of what the Great Red Spot and surrounding areas would look like to human eyes from Juno’s position. The tumultuous atmospheric zones in and around the Great Red Spot are clearly visible.

Normally scientists enhance the colors to bring out the details. This version does not, which definitely makes it a little less dramatic but more accurate. Even so, the whirls and storms within the Spot are clearly visible.

The image was taken on July 10 from about 8,600 miles away. Note also that the entire Earth would fit inside the storm.


Have astronomers using Kepler discovered the first exomoon?

The uncertainty of science: Using data from Kepler astronomers think they have spotted the first exomoon, orbiting a star 4,000 light years away.

They think it might be the size of Neptune, and orbits a planet about ten times more massive than Jupiter.

All this is unconfirmed, however, especially because their conclusions are based on data from only three transits. They plan to use the Hubble Space Telescope to do more observations and hopefully confirm the discovery.


Cameras on next Kepler-like exoplanet space telescope out of focus

NASA has revealed that the cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) become slightly out of focus when they are cooled to -75 Celsius, the temperature they will experience in space.

NASA has also decided that the fuzziness is not enough to require a fix, and is proceeding with the mission as is, despite concerns expressed by scientists.

Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution, brought up the issue in a summary of a meeting last week of the Astrophysics Advisory Committee, of which he is a member. “That could have some big effects on the photometry,” he said of the focus problem. “This is certainly a concern for the folks who know a lot about photometry.”

TESS will use those cameras to monitor the brightness of the nearest and brightest stars in the sky, an approach similar to that used by Kepler, a spacecraft developed originally to monitor one specific region of the sky. Both spacecraft are designed to look for minute, periodic dips in brightness of those stars as planets pass in front of, or transit, them. Chou said that since TESS is designed to conduct photometry, measuring the brightness of the stars in its field of view, “resolution is less important compared to imaging missions like Hubble.” However, astronomers are concerned that there will be some loss of sensitivity because light from the stars will be spread out onto a slightly larger area of the detector.

“The question is how much science degradation will there be in the results,” Boss said. “The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect.”

It could be that NASA has decided that the cost and delay required to fix this is not worth that 10% loss of data.


Judge okays TMT permit

In a 305-page decision, an Hawaiian judge has approved a new construction permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea.

This does not mean that the project now proceeds.

This isn’t the final say on whether the embattled project will proceed.

Now that Amano has issued her 305-page proposed decision and order, the state land board will set a deadline for telescope opponents and permit applicants to file arguments against her recommendations. The board will later hold a hearing and then make the final decision on the project’s conservation district use permit.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic governor of Hawaii issued a short, non-committal statement, stating that he supports “the co-existence of astronomy and culture on Mauna Kea,” whatever that means.


Denmark facing the first “summerless” July in four decades

Does this mean anything? Denmark is facing the first July in four decades with no days warmer than 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature the weather bureau there defines as a summer day.

According to the Danish Meteorology Institute (DMI), July is likely to end without a single ‘summer day’, which is defined as any day in which temperatures top 25C (77F) at least somewhere in Denmark. If the next five days come and go without hitting 25C as predicted, it will mark the first time that Danes will have suffered through a summer-less July in nearly four decades.

“There are only three years in our records in which July contains a big fat zero when it comes to summer days and temps above 25C. That’s 1962, 1974 and 1979,” climatologist John Cappelen said on the DMI website. DMI’s database goes back to 1874.

Actually, this doesn’t mean a lot. It is however an interesting factoid that once again raises questions about the NASA and NOAA claims that this year (along with the past few years) were the hottest on record.


Anti-vaccine campaigns are threatening the return of measles

The coming dark age: The ignorant and mindless campaigns against vaccination is making it more likely that the U.S. will see a return of major measles epidemics.

Researchers Nathan Lo and Dr. Peter Hotez were motivated to conduct the study after seeing data showing growing vaccine hesitancy and use of non-medical exemptions—largely due to lies and misinformation about the safety of vaccines and the threat of devastating diseases, such as measles. Currently, about two percent of kids aged two to 11 have a non-medical vaccine exemption.

Measles, in particular, requires vigilant vaccination. The highly infectious virus can linger in the air for hours after a cough or sneeze. Those sickened develop high fevers, rashes, inflamed eyes, and cold-like stuffy nose and cough. But people can spread the infection days before those symptoms appear. About 30 percent develop complications, such as pneumonia, brain swelling, and blindness.

To thwart infections, a population must have between 90- and 95-percent vaccine coverage to maintain herd immunity. Many communities and counties in the US are already on the brink of dipping below that range and thereby losing their protection from a case of measles going, well, viral. And there’s room for those vaccination rates to continue to slip. Presently, 18 states allow for personal belief exemptions, and all but two states allow for religious or philosophical exemptions.

They of course propose forcing people to get their kids vaccinated. I say, if you have kids, you have the responsibility to get informed and get them vaccinated, instead of taking advice from uneducated television stars who know nothing about science and doctors who have had their licenses revoked.


Computer simulations prove that we can geoengineer the climate!

What could possibly go wrong? Global warming scientists have discovered, using computer simulations, that combining several different geoengineering techniques, what they call a “cocktail,” will save the planet and do no harm.

The team—which includes Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira, Long Cao and Lei Duan of Zhejiang University, and Govindasamy Bala of the Indian Institute of Science—used models to simulate what would happen if sunlight were scattered by particles at the same time as the cirrus clouds were thinned. They wanted to understand how effective this combined set of tools would be at reversing climate change, both globally and regionally. “As far as I know, this is the first study to try to model using two different geoengineering approaches simultaneously to try to improve the overall fit of the technology,” Caldeira explained.

The good news is that their simulations showed that if both methods are deployed in concert, it would decrease warming to pre-industrial levels, as desired, and on a global level rainfall would also stay at pre-industrial levels. But the bad news is that while global average climate was largely restored, substantial differences remained locally, with some areas getting much wetter and other areas getting much drier.

And if you believe that this simulation captures what will really happen should global warming scientists dump vast amounts of light-reflecting particles in the upper atmosphere while also adding chemicals to thin cirrus clouds, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you. We don’t even really know if the climate is warming as these political activists (they are not really scientists) claim. We don’t really understand how the climate actually works. We don’t even understand fully how the Sun really fluctuates, and it is without doubt the climate’s most important influence. And these guys claim they now know what will happen if we play god with the atmosphere? Give me a break.


The endless bands of Saturn

Cool image time. One of the images released by the Cassini science team this week when it announced the first results from the spacecraft’s weekly dives between Saturn and its innermost rings was a short video made from 137 images taken on its first dive on April 26, 2017.

It is absolutely worthwhile to view this video. It begins at Saturn’s north pole, looking down into what appears to be a bottomless vortex, and continues south to almost the equator. Along the way the movie captures what seems to be innumerable horizontal bands across the gas giant’s surface. Not only are do we see the major bands that have been observed from Earth for centuries, there are bands within bands, and bands within those bands. Like a fractal it appears that the deeper you go, the more horizontal jet streams you see.

Like Juno at Jupiter, the mysteries of a gas giant like Saturn is overwhelming. This is a big and very active planet. We understand almost nothing about its weather systems, its atmosphere, and its interior. And this glimpse by Cassini is only that, a mere glimpse. When Cassini’s mission ends in September, it will leave us a treasure trove of knowledge. It will also leave us a much larger library of unanswered questions, all of which will remain unanswered until we can return, decades hence, with new probes..


New Horizons team spots stellar eclipse by 2014 MU69

In an effort to learn as much as possible about New Horizons’ next target, Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, the science team has successfully observed on July 17 a 0.2-second-long eclipse of a star by that object.

This was the third occultation by 2014 MU69 that the science team attempted to catch. With the first, on the ground, they saw nothing. The second, using the flying observatory SOFIA, was more successful, as was the third attempt last week.

Though they haven’t yet released their findings, they say the data from the last two observations has allowed them to determine the rough shape and size of 2014 MU69. This is crucial information needed for planning the observations of it during New Horizons January 1, 2019 fly-by.


First results from Cassini’s dives between Saturn and its rings

The first results from Cassini’s weekly dives between Saturn and its innermost rings have now been released.

The big surprise so far is the lack of a tilt to Saturn’s magnetic field.

Based on data collected by Cassini’s magnetometer instrument, Saturn’s magnetic field appears to be surprisingly well-aligned with the planet’s rotation axis. The tilt is much smaller than 0.06 degrees — which is the lower limit the spacecraft’s magnetometer data placed on the value prior to the start of the Grand Finale.

This observation is at odds with scientists’ theoretical understanding of how magnetic fields are generated. Planetary magnetic fields are understood to require some degree of tilt to sustain currents flowing through the liquid metal deep inside the planets (in Saturn’s case, thought to be liquid metallic hydrogen). With no tilt, the currents would eventually subside and the field would disappear.

Any tilt to the magnetic field would make the daily wobble of the planet’s deep interior observable, thus revealing the true length of Saturn’s day, which has so far proven elusive.

They also have gotten lots of much better images of the planet’s cloud tops.


Fake “Star Wars” science paper accepted/published by four journals

Peer-review science at its best! A fake science paper, loaded with quotes and references to the Star Wars movies, has been published or accepted for publication by four medical journals.

A neurology expert has revealed they were able to convince a trio of medical journals to publish their Star Wars-themed ‘fake’ manuscript, despite it being packed full of references to George Lucas’ iconic series. The author, who writes online under the name Neuroskeptic, said their paper titled ‘Mitochondria: Structure, Function and Clinical Relevance’ was poorly written and ‘an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes’.

‘I wanted to test whether ‘predatory’ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper,’ the hoax’s author wrote for Discover Magazine. ‘So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin.’

The name of the authors given in the fake piece are thinly-veiled references to Lucas – Star Wars’ creator – and Anakin Skywalker. Neuroskeptic went on in their blog post to explain the paper was picked up by four different journals – the American Journal of Medical and Biological Research, the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access, the Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and American Research Journal of Biosciences. The AJMBR did not publish the paper but did request a $360 fee in order to do so.

That this keeps happening suggests that much of what is published in peer-review journals is equally bad, and should never see the light of day. The bad work gets published because the journals make their money by charging the scientists to publish things, and the scientists need to get in print to justify their cushy jobs in academia. Sadly, no one seems to care whether they can teach.

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