November 29, 2010

NASA Study Finds Earth's Lakes Warming

Lake Tahoe ( Image credit: NASA-JPL)
PASADENA, Calif. – In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth's largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change. 

Researchers Philipp Schneider and Simon Hook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 large lakes worldwide.

They reported an average warming rate of 0.45 degrees Celsius (0.81 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, with some lakes warming as much as 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. The warming trend was global, and the greatest increases were in the mid- to high-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

"Our analysis provides a new, independent data source for assessing the impact of climate change over land around the world," said Schneider, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The results have implications for lake ecosystems, which can be adversely affected by even small water temperature changes."

November 26, 2010

Cassini Detects Atmosphere on Rhea

The cratered plains of Saturn's moon Rhea are visible in this image obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 21, 2009. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected a very tenuous atmosphere known as an exosphere, infused with oxygen and carbon dioxide around Saturn's icy moon Rhea. This is the first time a spacecraft has directly captured molecules of an oxygen atmosphere – albeit a very thin one -- at a world other than Earth. The oxygen appears to arise when Saturn's magnetic field rotates over Rhea. Energetic particles trapped in the planet's magnetic field pepper the moon’s water-ice surface. They cause chemical reactions that decompose the surface and release oxygen. The source of the carbon dioxide is less certain.

Oxygen at Rhea's surface is estimated to be about 5 trillion times less dense than what we have at Earth. But the new results show that surface decomposition could contribute abundant molecules of oxygen, leading to surface densities roughly 100 times greater than the exospheres of either Earth's moon or Mercury. The formation of oxygen and carbon dioxide could possibly drive complex chemistry on the surfaces of many icy bodies in the universe.

November 21, 2010

Why Aren't Airplanes Shaped Like Birds?

Airplanes do not look much like birds. Far from it. But a team of engineers in California and South Africa have asked if planes should be more birdlike in shape. The same engineers recently set about re-thinking aircraft architecture from scratch in order to make airplanes more fuel efficient. Modern airplanes work, but from a fuel efficiency standpoint, they could be much more aerodynamically. Less drag and more lift results in better fuel efficiency. According to Science Daily:

Geoffrey Spedding, an engineer at the University of Southern California, and Joachim Huyssen at Northwest University in South Africa, felt they could in theory, but they lacked experimental evidence. Now they have it. Spedding and Huyssen have made a simple modular aircraft in three configurations: a flying wing alone, then wings plus body, and then wings plus body and a tail. It turns out that they had independently re-designed a bird shape, but without specific reference to anything bird-like. They presented their experimental data with these three designs, at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach, CA. on November 21.

The result is a concept aircraft that resembles a seagull in shape and is far more fuel efficient that current planes. So what does this mean for the future of fuel-efficient air travel? "The most important point is that we may be wasting large amounts of fossil fuel by flying in fundamentally sub-optimal aircraft designs," says Spedding. "At the very least, we can show that there exists an alternative design that is aerodynamically superior. One may argue that there is now an imperative to further explore this (and perhaps other) designs that could make a significant difference to our global energy consumption patterns."

November 16, 2010

New English Words in 2010

The Global Language Monitor has announced that Spillcam is the Top Word, Anger and Rage the Top Phrase and Chinese Leader Hu Jintao the Top Name of 2010 in its annual global survey of the English language. Direct from the GLM, here are the top 10 new words of 2010:

1.  Spillcam — The BP Spillcam instantly beamed the immensity of the Gulf Spill around the world to the dismay of environmentalists, BP’s PR staff and the President.
2.  Vuvuzela — Brightly colored plastic horns that first came to prominence at the South African World Cup.
3.  The Narrative – Though used at least since The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845,  ‘The Narrative’ has recently been gaining traction in the political arena, virtually replacing the need for a party’s platform.  (Cf. to ‘truthily’.)
4.  Refudiate — Conflation of “refute” and “repudiate” (un)officially coined by Sarah Palin.
5.   Guido and Guidette — Hey! All things Jersey are hot, capish? (Actually, capisci in standard Italian.)
6.   Deficit – A growing and possibly intractable problem for the economies of most of the developed world.
7.  Snowmaggedden (and ‘Snowpocalypse’) — Portmanteau words linking ‘snow’ with ‘apocalypse’ and  ‘armageddon’, used to describe the record snowfalls in the US East Coast and Northern Europe last winter.
8.  3-D – Three-dimensional (as in movies) is buffo box office this year, but 3-D is being used in new ways generally describing ‘robustness’ in products (such as toothpaste).
9.  Shellacking – President Obama’s description of the ‘old-fashioned thumpin’ in George W. Bush’s words, that Democrats received in the 2010 US Mid-term elections.
10.  Simplexity – The paradox of simplifying complex ideas in order to make them easier to understand, the process of which only adds to their complexity.

November 11, 2010

Life Begets Rocks

Rocks aren't alive. Life is. Life and rocks are in separate categories, right? Not exactly. Robert Hazen and his colleagues with their study, "Mineral Evolution," published recently in the American Mineralogist have shattered that old wisdom. Here is part of the story from NPR:
When Professor Hazen tells the story of how minerals formed in the universe, he begins 13 plus billion years ago with a burst of energy, then a cooling, then gravity takes over and we get stars.
 Eventually a few of those stars blow up — that's how some stars die — and in a blaze of intense heat, we get the first 12 or so minerals: atoms forged by starbursts. Carbon, nitrogen, silicon, iron all come from stars. Dr. Hazen says the universe's original minerals include (and this is kind of cool) diamonds, as in Lucy in the Sky With… teeny bits of diamond dust floating in deep space.

November 4, 2010

Volcanic Eruption in Indonesia

Hot ash and rocks gushed from Mount Merapi, a deadly Indonesian volcano today, raining down upon thousands of villagers. The billowing clouds of volcanic ash were so thick that motorists within a 20 mile radius had to flip on their headlights in what would have been broad daylight. The Associated Press reports the current death toll as 44. According to NPR, "With no winds early Thursday, white clouds shot a spectacular 20,000 feet  into the sky. Gusts later carried the smoke westward, with cities and towns up to 240 kilometers dusted in white power."

The volcano is one of the world's most active. It has erupted many times in the past century with deadly results. The number of people killed since it burst back to life just over a week ago climbed to 44, said Eka Saputra, an Indonesian disaster official. In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

Scientists say that pressure currently building inside Merapi's crater may mean that more is yet to come, so more than 75,000 locals are now crowded into shelters away from the danger zone. Humans have historically been drawn to dwelling in the shadow of volcanoes because the ground is made particularly fertile by volcanic ash. Unfortunately, volcanoes are dangerous neighbors. As can be seen in the map above, Merapi is part of the Pacific Rim's highly Ring of Fire-- an area of high volcanic activity.

November 1, 2010

What Happened on November 1st?

With 60 days remaining until the end of the year 2010, we stop to wonder what has happened on this day in history! Here are a few highlights, so enjoy!

On November 1st...

2009: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urges Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume as soon as possible.
2000: Serbia joins the United Nations.
1993: The Maastricht Treaty takes effect, formally establishing the European Union (EU).
1992: Space Shuttle STS-52, Columbia 13, lands.
1989: Scandinavian Airlines System bans smoking on many flights.
1982: Honda becomes the first Asian automobile company to produce cars in the United States with the opening of their factory in Marysville, Ohio. The Honda Accord is the first car produced there.
1981: Antigua and Barbuda gains independence from the United Kingdom.
1979: United States federal government makes a $1.5 billion loan to Chrysler.
1979: Tanker Burmah Agate off Galveston Bay, Texas, spills 10.7 m gallons of oil, in US's worst oil spill disaster thus far.
1977: President Carter raises U.S. minimum wages of $2.30 to $3.35 for Jan 1 1981.
1977: U.S. performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site.