March 30, 2010

Great Student Loan Debt News for American College Students

If you are an American college student funded by student loans or an American taxpayer, then here is some great news for you: A makeover of the Federal student loan program that cuts out private banks as middlemen. The change will produce significant savings that can be channeled into more aid for needy college and university students.

The student loan debt provisions, which are part of the landmark health care legislation, would finally end obscenely large taxpayer subsidies to private student loan companies. For years, student lenders have been pocketing billions of dollars in subsidies to extend federal loans to collage students, even though the federal government has assumed virtually all the default risk. Ending this practice will free up $61 billion of taxpayer money over the next 10 years. A small portion of this money will used to strengthen an excellent federal student loan repayment program that aims to make it easier for borrowers to manage their student loan debt.

March 2, 2010

Chilean Earthquake May Have Shortened Earth Days, Altered Tilt

Studies suggest that the massive earthquake centered in Chile knocked the planet around enough to reduce the length of each earth day by about 1.26 microseconds, and offset the figure axis by about 8 centimeters. All of this from an earthquake-- fascinating. A few more earthquakes like the one in Chile and the one in Sumatra, and we could actually see days that are a full second or more shorter. This is the story straight from NASA:

The Feb. 27 magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile may have shortened the length of each Earth day. 

JPL research scientist Richard Gross computed how Earth's rotation should have changed as a result of the Feb. 27 quake. Using a complex model, he and fellow scientists came up with a preliminary calculation that the quake should have shortened the length of an Earth day by about 1.26 microseconds (a microsecond is one millionth of a second).

Perhaps more impressive is how much the quake shifted Earth's axis. Gross calculates the quake should have moved Earth's figure axis (the axis about which Earth's mass is balanced) by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches). Earth’s figure axis is not the same as its north-south axis; they are offset by about 10 meters (about 33 feet).

By comparison, Gross said the same model estimated the 2004 magnitude 9.1 Sumatran earthquake should have shortened the length of day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted Earth's axis by 2.32 milliarcseconds (about 7 centimeters, or 2.76 inches).

Gross said that even though the Chilean earthquake is much smaller than the Sumatran quake, it is predicted to have changed the position of the figure axis by a bit more for two reasons. First, unlike the 2004 Sumatran earthquake, which was located near the equator, the 2010 Chilean earthquake was located in Earth's mid-latitudes, which makes it more effective in shifting Earth's figure axis. Second, the fault responsible for the 2010 Chiliean earthquake dips into Earth at a slightly steeper angle than does the fault responsible for the 2004 Sumatran earthquake. This makes the Chile fault more effective in moving Earth's mass vertically and hence more effective in shifting Earth's figure axis.

Gross said the Chile predictions will likely change as data on the quake are further refined.