Posts Tagged ‘Earth’

Water Before Earth

September 26, 2014

I spotted this science story in the Los Angeles Times. I don’t suppose we think very much about water. Its just there. But some astronomers suspect that much of the water we drink  has been around before the Earth was formed.

Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system — even older than the sun itself.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

“It’s pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system,” said study leader Ilse Cleeves, an astronomer at the University of Michigan.

This finding suggests that water, a key ingredient of life, may be common in young planetary systems across the universe, Cleeves and her colleagues say.

I would think that water, in some form, would be rather common throughout the universe. It is made out of hydrogen and oxygen, two of the more common elements. There is more information about how the astronomers have come to their conclusions in the article.

I do not usually try to reconcile the text of the first chapters of Genesis with the findings of modern science. That is best left to those more learned in science and theology than I am. I am simply content to read Genesis to find out who created the universe and I turn to science to learn how He did it. Still, I am occasionally struck by how the writer of Genesis seems to have a better understanding of creation than any Bronze Age shepherd has any business having. Consider the very first verses.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. 

The first thing God created was light. The earliest event in the universe we can have any knowledge of would be the Big Bang. If you have the right instruments you can still see the light of creation. But it is the second and third days that this story reminds me of.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

God created water before the dry land. Evidently water predates the planets. Now, plants are shown to be created before the Sun and Moon. This presents a problem since plants cannot survive without the Sun. But instead of plants, think the most primitive forms of life, perhaps bacteria, or even life simpler than bacteria. Some scientists believe that life may have arisen in space and traveled throughout the universe before landing on Earth. If this panspermia hypothesis is correct, then it is possible that life might also predate the formation of the solar system. There is no evidence in favor of this hypothesis. No actual life has been detected in interstellar space, though organic molecules, such as amino acids, have been.

But this is all speculation on my part and I really should leave this to wiser minds.

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Manbearpig

August 27, 2014

I feel privileged today. Al Gore has sent me an e-mail asking me to help him track down and kill manbearpig.

Dear friend —

Folks like you know what I believe: We have no more important priority than confronting and solving the climate crisis.

Luckily, we have a President who has taken up that task with both determination and seriousness of purpose, and it’s amazing what a difference that can make.

In June, President Obama empowered the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon pollution, a move which will help reduce dangerous CO2 from power plants by 30 percent in 2030. On top of that, he has established new fuel economy standards that reduce CO2 levels and will save us all money at the pump. With the Recovery Act, he made the single biggest investment in clean energy in the United States, ever. All these steps will have a lasting impact on the planet our children and grandchildren inherit — and they wouldn’t have happened without your support.

If you stand with President Obama, add your name to support Democrats working with him to address climate change.

As Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” We’re seeing real, important progress in the fight against the climate crisis — and it’s coming not a moment too soon.

But you and I both know there are still a lot of deniers out there. The time for leadership in the face of this threat has not passed. If ever there were a moment to send leaders to Washington who make climate legislation their top priority, this is it.

Support Democrats, and tell Congress to address climate change:

http://my.democrats.org/Act-on-Climate

Thanks,

Al Gore

It is really too bad that there are so many deniers out there so refuse to take the former vice-president serial. What does he have to do to convince the deniers? Present actual empirical evidence for what he claims?

If you want to know why I am one of those deniers who cannot take Mr. Gore or the other climate alarmists very serial, it is because they do not act in a particularly honest manner. They do not simply state facts. The try to generate panic by exaggeration and misdirection. They try to bully people who disagree with them and fantasize about blowing such people up.

Carbon dioxide is not, in any way dangerous nor is it pollution. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring substance in the Earth’s atmosphere that is absolutely necessary for life on this planet. The Earth’s climate is not at a delicate equilibrium that can easily be disturbed by human activity. The Earth’s climate has changed drastically over the eons and will continue to change long after we are gone.

Another reason I cannot take people like Al Gore very serial is the hypocrisy of their position. Despite what Gore says, cutting “carbon pollution” from power plants and imposing stricter fuel standards will increase the cost of energy in this country. This won’t affect Al Gore. He has no intention of giving up his mansion or jetting around the world to spread the message about manbearpig . It will hurt the rest of us.

Well, since manbearpig has been spotted in southern Indiana, I guess I should get with Mr. Gore and help track it down. Maybe I can get a nobel prize too.

Manbearpig

Manbearpig

Opinions

April 21, 2014

Not long ago, I was reading an article on Cracked.com titled the 4 Most Useless Pieces of Advice Everyone Believes. Like many Cracked articles this one combined humor with serious observations about life. Number two on the list is “You’re entitled to your opinion. As always when I quote from Cracked.com, please excuse the language.

Being entitled to something is saying you have a right or claim to it. There is justice in you having this thing. And what could denigrate that idea more than someone being entitled to a chucklefuck stupid opinion?

The modern world is rife with people convinced that their opinions are important and valid when, sadly, that just isn’t true. For any opinion to be valid and important, it needs to be informed, and good God do few people aspire to that.

I’ve said before that everyone will have an opinion — that’s inevitable — but you should reserve your opinion until after you have informed yourself on the matter at hand, and you should only respect the opinion of others if it passes that test.

I wish the writer would have taken his own advice. Everyone does indeed have a right to their own opinion, informed or otherwise. The question is whether you should pay any attention to what a given person has to say on a given subject. If a person has shown himself to be knowledgeable about economics or physics, then their opinion is worth listening to on those subjects. That same person’s opinion on history or entertainment may not be worth listening to.

The writer gives several examples of what he considers to be bad opinions that are self-evidently so wrong that only someone  ignorant could possibly hold them. The trouble is that each of these opinions is not self-evidently wrong and could be defended.

For evidence of this, please refer to people who are “not racist but raised to believe you stay with your own kind.” That’s their opinion. Other people have an opinion that gays shouldn’t get married. That the Earth is 6,000 years old. That climate change doesn’t exist. That women who lead you on deserve to be raped. These opinions are not informed. There is no logic behind them, no foundation on which to base them.

Three of these; people should stay with their own kind, gays should not marry, and women can deserve to be raped are questions of values rather than facts, or what ought to be done rather than what is. You may believe some or all of these statements are morally right or wrong based on the basic values you uphold, but they are not statements that can be shown to be true or false. It may be a fact that people prefer to associate with people who look like themselves, or that gays would like to marry, or that a woman may lead a man on but whether or not people should only associate with their own race, or gays should marry, or a woman who leads a man on should be raped cannot be facts and cannot be decided by observation or debate.

This is why such questions are so hard to resolve, at least when dealing with people with different cultures and values. There are few people in the United States who would say that a woman could ever deserve to be raped. In Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, people may have a different view. Nearly everyone agrees that slavery is obviously wrong. No one in ancient times thought that there was anything at all wrong with slavery.  This is not to say that we should adopt a position of moral relativism.Some things are right and some things are wrong. There is a difference, however, between right and wrong, and true and false. The one is easy to decide. The other is a little harder.

Whether or not climate change is occurring is a question of facts. One fact is relatively easy to discover. Obviously, the Earth’s climate has changed drastically throughout its history. The questions of how the climate is changing right now and to what extent human beings are changing the climate are harder to answer. The interactions of the Earth’s atmosphere and climate are extremely complex and not well understood. The question of what to do about any changes in climate is more of a matter of ought than is. It is believing that the science is settled and that the debate is over that is uninformed and illogical.

Geologists believe that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old. They have good reasons for believing this and there is a general consensus among the scientists that have studied the matter that the Earth is that old. People who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old may not be very knowledgeable about geology or  may believe that their interpretation of scripture is more authoritative than the theories of geologists, but they are not stupid or ignorant, as the writer seems to believe. They may be very knowledgeable and sensible on many subjects.

At the same time, believing that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old is not really a sign of superior intellect. I doubt very much that many of the people who believe the Earth so old have actually investigated why geologists believe that the Earth is so old or how they came to determine the age of the Earth. If a person believes that the Earth is 4.57 billion years old, that belief may be correct, or at least in line with current thinking on the subject, but they can hardly take credit for believing what they were taught in school without questioning. If they were taught the Moon was made of green cheese,  they would believe that too.

What seems to be happening here, besides poor thinking skills on the part of the writer of this piece, is another example of a trend that is becoming more noticeable recently, the tendency by leftists to declare that all debate on a given subject is over, in favor of the left wing position. Anyone who does not take the orthodox leftwing position on the subject does not simply happen to have a different opinion or is not simply mistaken about the facts, but is upholding a position that is so devoid of logic and decency that they shouldn’t even be allowed to express it in public. Their opinions are so noxious that they need never be listened to and ought never to be permitted any forum in which to express their hateful views. Thus, someone who opposes the idea of same-sex marriage does not simply value traditional ideas on marriage or have sincere religious views. All good people support same-sex marriage so that person can only be a hater and a bigot. Someone who does not believe that human beings are primarily responsible for changing the climate cannot have come to that  conclusion by examining the evidence. They can only be an either an ignoramus or in the pay of Big Oil.

It’s hard to imagine that this sort of casual disrespect could make our political discourse more civil. It is more likely to have the reverse effect. If your opponent is not simply a human being with different ideas but either the Devil or a complete idiot, you need not try to reason with them or try to understand them, or even treat them with minimal respect. You are more likely to seek to destroy or ruin them.

But, that is just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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Nature’s Clocks

September 23, 2013

When a geologist says that a particular rock is one hundred million years old, how do you know he isn’t just picking a number out of his hat? Well, you don’t, unless you decide to study the methods by which scientists date rocks and minerals. I can’t think of a better place to start than Doug Macdougal’s Nature’s Clocks: How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything. In this book, Macdougal covers the basics of the various sorts of radioactive dating that scientists use to date samples. He begins, appropriately enough at the beginning with the realization by early geologists like James Hutton that the Earth must be far older than Archbishop Usser’s 6000 years.

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By studying the layers of rocks laid down and the fossils associated with each layer, geologists were able to get a good idea of the relative ages of these rocks, a layer on top of another layer is usually younger, but they had no way to measure the absolute age of these rocks or of the Earth until the discovery of radioactivity at the beginning of the twentieth century. It didn’t take long for scientists to realize that the unvarying rate of decay of a sample of a radioactive isotope into its daughter elements provided them with a clock they could use to measure the age of rocks and the Earth. All they had to do was to compare the amount of the daughter element to the amount of the mother element, and by knowing the half-life of the mother element, they could know the age of the sample.

It seems straightforward, but the process is much more complicated and took decades to develop. Scientists needed to find ways of knowing how much of the daughter elements were in the sample when it first formed. They needed to learn ways of minimizing any contamination of the sample. Macdougal describes the development of the three most common methods used for radioactive dating, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, and uranium-lead. This last was developed by Clair Patterson, who realized that the unusually high content of lead in the atmosphere that threatened to contaminate his samples was due to the use of leaded gasoline. This discovery drew attention to the health threat of such widespread usage of lead and his work ultimately led to the banning of leaded gasoline.

Macdougal moves on from the development of radioactive dating techniques to more of the more exciting recent uses, including the accurate dating of small grains of zircon to 4.1 billion years, making them the oldest material ever discovered on Earth. Macdougal explains these processes and discoveries in language that is accessible to the non-scientist, without sacrificing clarity or a basic understanding of just how they know a rock is that old. His enthusiasm for his work is contagious and makes Nature’s Clock actually fun to read. I can recommend it highly for anyone who wants to know more about radioactive dating.

The Earth is Flat

December 14, 2012

How do you know that it isn’t? Not long ago, I came across a comment to the effect that the Bible should not be trusted as any sort of guide because it was written  by men who believed the Earth is flat. I do not intend to defend the authority of the Bible in this post, or to speculate about divine inspiration, or even to consider whether the writers of the Bible did indeed believe that the Earth is flat. Instead I want to consider this idea that because people in ancient, and not so ancient, times knew less about the natural world than we moderns do, they were therefore more ignorant and more foolish than we are, and therefore have nothing worth saying to us.

 

 

 

English: The Flammarion engraving is a wood en...

Although it would be cool if you could see over the edge of the Earth.

 

So, I will ask again. How do you know that the Earth is round? No doubt you have seen photographs of the Earth taken from space. The Earth seems spherical enough. You might also have taken plane trips around the world, or at least a good portion of it. You might have traveled on a ship so far that you have returned to your starting place, and therefore realized that the Earth cannot be flat. Moreover, all the books and maps and globes say the Earth is a sphere. It is so obvious that the Earth is round that members of the Flat Earth Society must either be joking or among the most ignorant fools on the planet.

 

 

 

But, what if there were no pictures from space? What if there were no airplanes or ships capable of long ocean voyages? Could you, by your own observations be able to determine the true shape of the Earth? Probably not.

 

 

 

The truth is, that the idea that the Earth is flat is perfectly reasonable given the information that the people in ancient times had available to them. It is not at all obvious that the Earth is round and there is no reason for anyone prior to the development of modern science to even suspect that might be the case. The remarkable thing is that people in ancient times did learn that the Earth is a sphere.

 

 

 

It was the ancient Greeks who discovered the true shape of the Earth, and the way they learned this might not occur to many even in our enlightened times. The Greeks were a sea-faring people. You can see farther out on the sea since there are no obstructions like trees or mountains as there are on land. Greek sailors noticed that as a ship moved farther away, it did not just recede into the distance. First the hull of the ship vanished, than the bottom of the sail, and finally the top of the mast. Eventually someone realized that this observation meant that the Earth could not be flat, but must at least be curved. The discovery was attributed to Pythagoras (the one with the theorem) but it is possible that the knowledge of the Earth’s shape was known as far back as the time of Homer. Aristotle argued that the Earth must be round because the shape of the Earth’s shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is round. Eratosthenes actually measured the circumference of the Earth with an amazing degree of accuracy. Contrary to what is still often believed, knowledge of the round Earth did not vanish during the “Dark Ages” nor did the Catholic Church ever teach that the world was flat.

 

English: Ship at horizon: due to earth curvatu...

English: Ship at horizon: due to earth curvature lower part is invisible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There are two lessons to be learned here. First, as I said, the concept that the Earth is flat is perfectly reasonable and obvious if you have not been able to make the sorts of observations that would show otherwise. How many perfectly reasonable and obvious ideas do you think are widely held today that are simply wrong? Second, even though people in the past did not possess our modern knowledge of the natural sciences and technology, it does not follow that they were stupid or that they had nothing worthwhile to say to us. It may well be that in some ways they were wiser than we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drilling to the Mantle

October 8, 2012
English: Earth and atmosphere cutaway illustra...

English: Earth and atmosphere cutaway illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I think it’s time to take a break from the murky world of politics and write something about the clearer and more pleasant subject of science. This article I read in Popsci seems to be just the thing to cheer me up.

 

With enough money and enough moxie, scientists operating gigantic ocean-based drills could penetrate into the Earth’s mantle by the early 2020s, returning samples that could hold clues to our planet’s origins. The effort to reach into the heart of the Earth would be one of the most dramatic undertakings in science.

Drilling through the Earth’s comparatively thin crust to reach its innards would require getting through at least 3.7 miles of seafloor, which requires safely mooring a huge ship above the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean. The hole would be just 30 centimeters (about a foot) in diameter. The effort could take at least $1 billion, which hasn’t been raised yet.

The good news is that the would-be mantle explorer, the Japanese research vessel Chikyu, has already set new world records for the deepest-ever scientific hole in the world. The ship’s drill reached 2.2 kilometers into the seafloor this summer, on a mission that just wrapped up over the weekend (the ship has not returned to port yet due to stormy weather). The Chikyu is capable of reaching much farther down. Still, drill technology needs to improve before anyone can reach the molten interior of our planet — Chikyu’s drill bits only last about 50 or 60 hours before they need to be replaced, CNN points out.

Damon Teagle, a geologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, tells CNN it would be a massive undertaking: “It will be the equivalent of dangling a steel string the width of a human hair in the deep end of a swimming pool and inserting it into a thimble 1/10 mm wide,” he said.

The deepest hole in the Earth is more than 12,376 meters (40,604 feet) into the crust, a borehole in eastern Russia drilled by Exxon Mobil in August. This one still doesn’t approach the mantle, and is not directly vertical, but the borehole and others show the idea of drilling into the liquid Earth might be feasible.

I hope they are able to bring up samples. Not very much is known about how rock actually reacts to the high temperatures and pressure found in the Earth’s mantle. It isn’t easy to subject rocks to that kind of environment in a laboratory here on the surface and so far our knowledge of conditions in the mantle is information extrapolated from seismic readings.

 

Raypaths of S- and P-waves through the Earth's...

Raypaths of S- and P-waves through the Earth’s mantle and core (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They have actually tried this sort of thing before, in the 1960’s. Project Mohole was an attempt to drill down as far as the Mohorovicic discontinuity, or the boundary between the crust and the mantle. The project was not successful and was abandoned. I hope this latest attempt proves to be more fruitful.

 

 

The Deep Hot Biosphere

July 1, 2012

The conventional wisdom concerning oil, gas and coal, or fossil fuels as they are called is that they originated many eons ago as plants and animals that died and were buried. Deep under the surface, their remains were slowly transformed into the carbon compounds that make up coal and petroleum. The evidence for this view is that fossilized remains of life are generally associated with fossil fuels. The conventional wisdom is also that the surface of the Earth is the place where life originated and flourishes while conditions deep under the surface are too hot to support any life.


What if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the petroleum and coal that we depend on did not come from ancient life but instead came from carbon that has been present since the beginning of the Earth? What if under the surface of the Earth there was a whole biosphere of microorganisms? Surface life makes use of the energy of the Sun though photosynthesis. What if the microorganisms under the earth make use of chemosynthesis using the carbon as it is transported toward the surface, and oxygen? In other words, what if fossil fuels are not fossils at all, but a part of the Earth that has been transformed by sub surface life?

This is Thomas Gold’s hypothesis that he presents in his book, The Deep, Hot Biosphere. He makes a very convincing case and his hypothesis, if true, can explain a great many geological phenomena not well understood at present, such as the formation of metal ores in veins, some questions about earthquakes, and others. Gold points out that conditions under the Earth would be far more favorable for the origin of life that the surface. In the final chapter, Gold examines the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life. So far, we have not found life on any other planet of the Solar System, but perhaps we are not looking in the right place. The surface of Mars, the Moon and the satellites of the gas giants are all hostile to life, but maybe we should look under the surface. Perhaps deep within Mars there lies the life we have been searching for.

Is the deep, hot biosphere hypothesis true? I couldn’t say not being an expert in this field. However, I will say that Thomas Gold shows himself to be a first class scientist by asking the questions. There has been a tendency in recent years to view science as some sort of final authority with all of the answers. How many times have you heard the latest study viewed as some sort of message from on high, or heard the phrase settled science? This is a misuse of science. Science is not an authority, but a method for asking the questions. Sometimes the most important work a scientist can do is to ask questions that everyone thinks they know the answer to. In this regard, The Deep, Hot Biosphere is an interesting book that is sure to make you think.

Global Warming and Global Government

March 20, 2012

I have long contended that the global warming/climate change/climate catastrophe/ whatever they’re calling it this week had less to do with the environment than with political power. It is nice to see myself vindicated straight from the Warmists’ mouths. Here in Scientific American is a piece by Gary Stix called “Effective World Government Will be Needed to Stave Off Climate Catastrophe“. I am sure Mr. Stix did not intend it, but this is a truly horrifying post. Since the post is short, I will quote the whole thing.

Almost six years ago, I was the editor of a single-topic issue on energy for Scientific American that included an article by Princeton University’s Robert Socolow that set out a well-reasoned plan for how to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below a planet-livable threshold of 560 ppm. The issue came replete with technical solutions that ranged from a hydrogen economy to space-based solar.

If I had it to do over, I’d approach the issue planning differently, my fellow editors permitting. I would scale back on the nuclear fusion and clean coal, instead devoting at least half of the available space for feature articles on psychology, sociology, economics and political science. Since doing that issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that the technical details are the easy part. It’s the social engineering that’s the killer. Moon shots and Manhattan Projects are child’s play compared to needed changes in the way we behave.

A policy article authored by several dozen scientists appeared online March 15 in Science to acknowledge this point: “Human societies must now change course and steer away from critical tipping points in the Earth system that might lead to rapid and irreversible change. This requires fundamental reorientation and restructuring of national and international institutions toward more effective Earth system governance and planetary stewardship.”

The report summarized 10 years of research evaluating the capability of international institutions to deal with climate and other environmental issues, an assessment that found existing capabilities to effect change sorely lacking. The authors called for a “constitutional moment” at the upcoming 2012 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June to reform world politics and government. Among the proposals: a call to replace the largely ineffective U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development with a council that reports to the U.N. General Assembly, at attempt to better handle emerging issues related to water, climate, energy and food security. The report advocates a similar revamping of other international environmental institutions.

Unfortunately, far more is needed. To be effective, a new set of institutions would have to be imbued with heavy-handed, transnational enforcement powers. There would have to be consideration of some way of embracing head-in-the-cloud answers to social problems that are usually dismissed by policymakers as academic naivete. In principle, species-wide alteration in basic human behaviors would be a sine qua non, but that kind of pronouncement also profoundly strains credibility in the chaos of the political sphere. Some of the things that would need to be contemplated: How do we overcome our hard-wired tendency to “discount” the future: valuing what we have today more than what we might receive tomorrow? Would any institution be capable of instilling a permanent crisis mentality lasting decades, if not centuries? How do we create new institutions with enforcement powers way beyond the current mandate of the U.N.? Could we ensure against a malevolent dictator who might abuse the power of such organizations?

Behavioral economics and other forward-looking disciplines in the social sciences try to grapple with weighty questions. But they have never taken on a challenge of this scale, recruiting all seven billion of us to act in unison. The ability to sustain change globally across the entire human population over periods far beyond anything ever attempted would appear to push the relevant objectives well beyond the realm of the attainable. If we are ever to cope with climate change in any fundamental way, radical solutions on the social side are where we must focus, though. The relative efficiency of the next generation of solar cells is trivial by comparison.

There is a lot that can be said about such folly, but I will say just this. A government that has the power to make “species-wide alteration in basic human behaviors”, that has “the ability to sustain change globally across the entire human population” would have to be totalitarian on a scale that would surpass Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China. Since sociopaths and power seekers are drawn to such power like flies to honey, there is simply no way to ensure against a malevolent dictator, no matter how benevolent the founders might be. No doubt Gary Stix envisions an ecotopian paradise ruled by people of like mind, but it is far more probable that the world government he desires would be a totalitarian hell and people like him would be among the first to be sent to the Antarctian gulags.

Life Under the One World Government

Solar Storm Coming

September 27, 2011
Sunspot #923 is the biggest dark spot at the s...

The End ?

From the Daily Mail. This could be bad.

A sunspot, 62,000 miles across – so big it would dwarf the Earth – is releasing gigantic solar flares that could in theory wreak havoc with electrical communications ranging from handheld electronics such as iPhones to sections of the power grid.

Nasa has detected two X-class solar eruptions from 1302 – the most extreme possible – in the past week. One that occurred on September 24 produced an amazing light show over England last night – but it’s far from over, as the sunspot isn’t yet directly aligned with Earth.

NASA experts have said ‘anything electrical’ can be affected by such activity.

Known as ‘Active Region 1302’, it is producing bursts of radiation so intense that spectacular auroras, caused by the sun’s particles hitting the atmosphere, have been seen as far south as Oxfordshire.

Astronomer Dr Ian Griffin, CEO of Science Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘Active Region 1302 is the source of all of the auroras seen yesterday, and may well be the source of some more auroras over the next few nights.

The last really bad solar storm we experienced was way back in 1859.

On September 1–2, 1859, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. Aurorae were seen around the world, most notably over the Caribbean; also noteworthy were those over the Rocky Mountains that were so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning.[4] According to professor Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado’sLaboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, “people in the northeastern U.S. could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora.[5]

Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators.Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire. Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.

Just think of the havoc a storm like that could wreak today with all the electronics that we depend upon. This could be the end of civilization.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before. It would be really cool to see them as far south as Indiana.

Earth Once Had Two Moons

August 4, 2011
Artist's depiction of the giant impact that is...

Image via Wikipedia

From Yahoo News. This is an interesting article. Some astronomers are speculating that the reason that the two sides of the Moon, facing and away from Earth, are so different is that long ago Earth actually had two moons which collided to form the present day satellite.

A tiny second moon may once have orbited Earth before catastrophically slamming into the other one, a titanic clash that could explain why the two sides of the surviving lunar satellite are so different from each other, a new study suggests.

The second moon around Earth would have been about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) wide and could have formed from the same collision between the planet and a Mars-sized object that scientists suspect helped create the moon we see in the sky today, astronomers said.

The moon’s far side is very different than its near side.

For instance, widespread plains of volcanic rock called “maria” (Latin for seas) cover much of the near hemisphere, but only a few maria are seen on the far one. In addition, while the surface of the near side is mostly low and flat, the far side is often high and mountainous, with the lunar surface elevated 1.2 miles (1.9 km) higher on average on the far side.

Now computer simulations hint a second moon essentially pancaked itself against its larger companion, broadly explaining the differences seen between the near and far sides.

Their calculations suggest this second moon would have formed at the same time as our moon. Scientists have suggested that our moon was born from massive amounts of debris left over from a giant impact Earth suffered from a Mars-size body early on in the history of the solar system. Spare rubble might also have coalesced into another companion moon, one just 4 percent its mass and about 750 miles wide, or one-third of our moon’s diameter.

I assume that by 750 miles wide they mean the object’s diameter was 750 miles, in comparison the Moon’s diameter is about 2160 miles. This second moon, then, was fairly small. It still would have been an amazing sight to see two moons in the sky, though I don’t know what effect that would have on the tides.

At any rate, it would seem that the second moon’s orbit was not stable so the two moons collided.

To imagine where this other moon once was, picture the Earth and the moon as being two points in a triangle whose sides are equal in length.

The other point of such a triangle is known as a Trojan point, or a Lagrangian point, named after the mathematician who discovered them. At such a point, the gravitational attraction of the Earth and moon essentially balances out, meaning objects there can stay relatively stably. The Earth and moon have two Trojan points, one leading ahead of the moon, known as the L-4 point of the system, and one trailing behind, its L-5 point.

The researchers computed that this second moon could have stayed at a Trojan point for tens of millions of years. Eventually, however, this Trojan moon‘s orbit would have destabilized once our moon’s orbit expanded far enough away from Earth.

The resulting collision would have been relatively slow at 4,500 to 6,700 miles per hour (7,200 to 10,800 kph), leading its matter to splatter itself across our moon as a thick extra layer of solid crust tens of miles thick instead of forming a crater.

Of course, this is all speculation and computer simulation. We are going to have to go back to the Moon and see what we can find.


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