Tag Archives: science

Loss of floating ice?

A paper published on Saturday in Geophysical Research Letters by the American Geophysical Union attempts to calculate the total ice loss at the polar caps and how it will affect the sea level. Key quote from the abstract: “Rapid losses of Arctic sea ice and small Antarctic ice shelves are partially offset by thickening of Antarctic sea ice and large Antarctic ice shelves.”

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Some weekend cave exploration

Posting today shall be very quiet, mostly because I am out in West Virginia, exploring a previously unknown upper level in a cave we are mapping. This passage was only discovered last month by Aaron Moses, John Harman, and Pete Johnson, who did a bolt climb of over 70 feet to reach a high lead in the wall of the cave. This weekend we will be pushing and mapping these virgin passages. Below is a picture taken by Brian Masney of Aaron Moses as he worked his way up the wall, with Pete Johnson providing a belay. More of Brian’s pictures can be seen on his Flicker webpage.

Aaron Moses bolt climbing

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Knowledge or Certainty

An evening pause: One of the best television science series ever produced was The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. Rather than simply describe science and knowledge, Bronowski instead pondered the nature of humanity. The best episode of the series was Knowledge or Certainty, in which Bronowski compared the humane uncertainty of science with the terrible consequences of dogma. As Oliver Cromwell said, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

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Scientists measure the rise and fall of lakes on Titan

It appears we are entering the dry season on Titan. Scientists have observed a 1 meter drop in the levels of Titan’s methane lakes over the last four years as the seasons on the moon go from summer to fall. Fun quote: “[The scientists] report that the shoreline of Ontario Lacus receded by about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from June 2005 to July 2009.”

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More cave images from the Moon

James Fincannon of NASA has forwarded me two additional pictures of the same cave on the Moon, taken recently at different times by the camera on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and made available by the Goddard Space Flight Center and Arizona State University.

two images of the same pit

These images clearly show that the skylight looks down into a much larger space, with the underground room belling out from the skylight in all directions. This can be seen by how the angle of sunlight hitting the floor of the cave changes over time. Below is a very crude cartoon I have drawn to illustrate what I think we are seeing in the image on the left. The dashed lines indicate unseen walls whose precise location is not yet determined.

cartoon

James also forwarded me this link, showing even more images of additional lava tube skylights on the Moon.

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Greenland icecap is not melting

Steve Goddard has posted on Anthony Watt’s webpage a very detailed update on the state of the icecap covering Greenland. Surprise! There are no signs of it disappearing anytime soon. (Note that you might have to scroll to the right to see the text of Goddard’s post, as on some computers Watts’s webpage is unfortunately far too wide for the screen.)

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Boulder tracks on Mars

Here’s a nice picture from the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released July 7, showing the boulder tracks left by rocks bouncing down the escarpment of Kasei Valles in the low gravity of Mars. Fun quote:

Some of these blocks traveled downhill several hundred meters (yards) as they rolled and bounced, leaving behind a trail of indentations or poke marks in the surface’s fine-grained, light-toned soils. The raised borders in some of these poke marks indicate they are relatively recent features, unaffected by wind erosion, or that this soil has cohesive properties, such as if it was cemented.

Boulder tracks on Mars

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The state of the polar ice caps, June 2010

On July 6, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) of the University of Colorado published its monthly report on the state of the polar ice caps. The Arctic ice cap, which this winter had been larger and more extensive than seen for many years, also shrank this spring at the fastest rate in years. (This chart, produced by data from the Japanese AMSR instruments on two research satellites, shows these trends very clearly.) Meanwhile, NSIDC reports that the ice cap in Antarctica is far larger than normal. Not unexpectedly, NSIDC immediately argues (quite unconvincingly if you ask me) that more ice in Antarctica is evidence for global warming.

From my perspective, the data continues to be inconclusive. We still do not really understand the long term trends of the Earth’s climate.

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More questions about climategate inquiry

More questions are being raised about the various climategate investigations, this time in the UK Parliament. Key quote:

Climategate may finally be living up to its name. If you recall, it wasn’t the burglary or use of funding that led to the impeachment of Nixon, but the cover-up. Now, ominously, three inquiries into affair have raised more questions than there were before.

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Water found around carbon star; Bok globule

Water vapor detected in deep space, first near the carbon star V Cygni and second in two dark starless cores. The second detection is a first time water has been seen in these black clouds. Fun quote from the abstract of the first paper notes how the detection “raises the intriguing possibility that the observed water is produced by the vapourisation of orbiting comets or dwarf planets.”

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The sun remains quiet

On July 6 NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center published its monthly graph, showing the progress of the sun’s sunspot cycle in comparison with the consensis prediction made by the solar science community in May 2009.

July 6, 2010 Solar Cycle progression

The graph shows clearly that, despite press-release-journalism stories like this, the sun remains in a very quiet state, with the number of sunspots far less than predicted by the red line on the graph. If these trends persist (as they have for the last three years), the next solar maximum will either be much later than expected or far weaker. In fact, the upcoming solar maximum might very well be the weakest seen in almost two centuries. Note also that the prediction shown on this graph is a significant revision downward from the science community’s earlier prediction from 2007.

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First photos from inside Hayabusa capsule

Update and bumped: More details have been released about what was inside the Hayabusa capsule. In total, two 0.01 millimeter particles have been found in the inner capsule, and about 10 large particles in the outer capsule.

The first photo from inside the Hayabusa capsule has been released, showing the presence of a tiny 0.01 millimeter particle. It is still unknown whether this is an asteroid particle or something captured on the return to Earth.

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The law and Obama at Yucca Mountain

Apropos to the space war between Obama and Congress over the Obama administration’s willingness to ignore Congressional legislation mandating the continuing funding of the Constellation program is this story about the administration’s efforts to circumvent federal law in order to cancel the use of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a nuclear waste site. The courts have now expressly ruled [pdf] that the Obama administration it cannot do this: the law is the law, and they have to follow it. The key quote from the legal decision:

Unless Congress directs otherwise, [the Department of Energy] may not single-handedly derail the legislated decisionmaking process.

What a concept: the President and his appointees must obey the law!

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Another climategate whitewash?

Another climategate whitewash? The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has reviewed the 2007 UN IPCC report and decided that, though the report did have some really embarrassing errors (including some new ones uncovered by the review), the IPCC’s conclusion — that global warming is happening and that it is caused by humans — must still be correct.

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Bolden’s al-Jazeera interview, part 2

The reports of NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s al-Jazeera interview have so far focused mostly on Bolden’s claim that his “foremost” priority at NASA is to reach out to the Muslim world in order “to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”

Though this statement is both idiotic and condescending, I don’t think it was the most idiotic thing Bolden said. Instead, I think the prize-winner is this quote near the end of the interview (at around 21:30), where Bolden describes why we need to find out the make-up of all asteroids:

Is it sand or is it metal? If it is sand we’re not really worried that much about it because it’s probably going to impact the Earth and, you know, go away. Metal would be a bad day. We could have another ice age and instead of the extinction of the dinosaurs it would be the extinction of you and me.

Asteroids made of “sand” are merely going to “go away” if they hit the Earth? I would really like to see the scientific research Bolden is relying on for this statement.

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