Running Around in Circles

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October 16, 2017

Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Blown’ in the Wind

A new study published last week has breathed new life into efforts to use deep-ocean-based wind farms as a viable means of supplying a non-fossil fuel source for the world’s energy needs. The research, conducted by the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, CA, concludes that there is so much wind power packed in the world’s oceans that it could theoretically be used to generate “civilization scale power.;” however, in practice it would be difficult to commit entities to find ways to install wind turbines located over huge stretches of global seas often in extreme environments.

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

While it’s highly unlikely that we would ever construct open ocean turbines on such a grand scale (the scientists also warned that a gianormous network of wind farms could actually affect global weather patterns), the study does send a more modest message that floating wind farms over deep waters could be the next major step in wind energy technology, reports the Washington Post.

“I would look at this as kind of a green light for that industry from a geophysical point of view,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford.

Unlike land-based wind generators that lose a lot of potential energy from friction and immediate use, ocean-based turbines, while being able to collect up to 70 percent higher wind speeds, also can take advantage of what is known as wind replenishment. In other words, the new research found that over the mid-latitude seas, storms typically transfer powerful wind energy down to the surface from higher altitudes, providing a lot more bang for the buck.

“Over land, the turbines are just sort of scraping the kinetic energy out of the lowest part of the atmosphere, whereas over the ocean, it’s depleting the kinetic energy out of most of the troposphere, or the lower part of the atmosphere,” said Caldeira.

Statoil’s Hywind floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland will be the first of its kind in the world.

If taken seriously, the new research points to a kind of third act for wind energy following well-established land, turbines and offshore installations located in relatively shallow waters.  However, to reach to the next stage where floating structures accompanied by cables anchoring the wind generator to the seafloor over a mile below will take a considerable leap over the current technology. “The things that we’re describing are likely not going to be economic today, but once you have an industry that’s starting in that direction, should provide incentive for that industry to develop,” said Caldeira.

That said, experimentation with deep sea wind technology is beginning to happen. For instance, energy exploration company Statoil has committed to building a large floating wind farm off the coast of  Scotland, which will be located in waters around 100 meters deep and have 15 megawatts (million watts) of electricity generating capacity.

Latest CO2 -eaking El Nino caused different weather patterns globally.

On a down note though, in light of increasingly dismal news on health of our planet (at least from a human survivability standpoint), one wonders again if this is all too little to late. The latest dire report comes from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2) that has recorded the greatest greenhouse gas spike in the last 2,000 years occuring during the 2015-16 El Nino period, as well as monitoring overheated tropical forests oozing with CO2.  Perhaps we can leave a note of warning for future civilizations, so unlike us, they can hoist their sail when the wind is fair.

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Pinky Ring

The astronomy world is abuzz overt the discovery of a ring around an odd-shaped dwarf planet located beyond Neptune,making it the furthest object in our solar system to own such a feature. According to a team of scientists who published their findings in the journal Nature, the 43 mile-wide, 1,400 mile-long ring system belonging to the planetoid Haumea was spotted on January 21st this year using a battery of 12 telescopes from 10 countries as the tiny orb passed in front of a distant star. “There are different possible explanations for the formation of the ring; it may have originated in a collision with another object, or in the dispersal of surface material due to the planet’s high rotational speed,” said study team leader Jose Ortiz, who added that the new discovery shows that the presence of ringed bodies could be more common the in universe than previously thought. One of the most bizarrely-formed objects in our solar system, Haumea takes 284 years to orbit the Sun and rotates on its axis once in only four hours.

Splice of Life

One of the main problems to solve if humans are to successfully settle Mars and beyond (besides air) is how to overcome the dangers of radiation in space once we leave the protection of our Earthbound bubble.  Well, some brainiacs at NASA are taking a creepy Victor Frankensteinish approach to this puzzle and are proposing the possibility of actually altering the DNA of travelers to the Red Planet so their bodies would act as radiation-repellent armor.  “We’re looking at a range of things,” NASA’s acting Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier told The Times “following a talk in London he gave on the idea of creating GMO astronauts. “From drug therapies, and those seem to be quite promising, to more extreme things like epigenetic modification all the way to manipulation. I think those have a lot of ethical consequences so they’re still in the experimental thought stages,” Terrier added. While the space agency is considering far less extreme remedies such as special suits or spacecraft modifications, we’re afraid this is just the excuse for a wide-eyed geneticist with a God complex (and a wad of cash from someone like Elon Musk) to open a Pandora’s Box of Gattaca-like quandaries and miseries.

Lost and Found

Two separate scientific teams appear to have solved the mystery of why, under the current models of our universe, we can’t seem to find roughly half of the “normal” matter that should exist (not counting dark matter and dark energy). Apparently, the “missing” protons, neutrons, and electrons – called baryons – have been lurking between galaxies, linking them via filaments of hot diffuse gas.“The missing baryon problem is solved,” said Hideki Tanimura at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, leader of one of the groups. The other separate study was led by Anna de Graaff at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “There’s no sweet spot – no sweet instrument that we’ve invented yet that can directly observe this gas,” says Richard Ellis at University College London. “It’s been purely speculation until now.” Since none of our X-ray telescopes are sensitive enough to pick up the tiny threads of intergalactic gas, both teams had to analyze data collected by the Planck satellite that mapped light left over from the Big Bang, and through a process of creative data “stacking” of between 260,000 and a million pairs of galaxies, were able to “observe” the ghostly baryon wisps.

Planet Nine from Caltech

Just in time to confuse a public whose collective cognitive skills are already on life support as claims of a mythical Nibiru/Planet X cataclysm continue to echo throughout the internet, a pair of astronomers have updated a paper published in January 2016 in which they predicted the existence of a humongous planet hidden in the outer realms of our solar system beyond Neptune which they dubbed, “Planet Nine.” “There have been new detections of distant Kuiper belt objects since the publication of our original paper,” says Konstantin Batygin, a Caltech professor of planetary science and co-author of the original paper. ”We now better understand how the expanded observational dataset shaped by the gravity of Planet Nine,” he added. Basically the planet-seeking gumshoe (along with Alessandro Morbidelli, from the University of Côte d’Azur) has created an up -to-date computer simulation, which defines the orbital behavior of “Planet Nine.”  “With our new understanding of how Planet Nine sculpts the observed patterns in the data, we have been able to zoom in on its true orbit further,” Batygin explains.

In the meantime, the hunt continues, with Batygin and Mike Brown, co-author of the original paper, spending a few nights last month at the Mauna Kea Observatory scanning the skies for a sign of their great white whale of a planet. “Frustratingly, we do not yet know if we found Planet Nine this time around. The data is still in the process of being processed and analysed, there is a lot of data. So nothing observational to share yet.”

Crash Test Dummies

Set your clocks for the year 2079 when there is a 1 in 750 chance that the house-sized Asteroid 2012 TC4 that safely whizzed by Earth last Wednesday at an altitude of only 27,500 miles will return for a possible direct hit following additional flyby in 2050. “We know today that it will also not hit the Earth in the year 2050, but the close flyby in 2050 might deflect the asteroid such that it could hit the Earth in the year 2079,” Rüdiger Jehn of the European Space Agency said. Fortunately 2012 TC4, if it does strike, will not pose a doomsday threat, and will likely cause a brief hullabaloo much like the bolide that burst over Russia in 2013, and blew out a few windows.

In a more imminent threat, the abandoned Chinese space station Tiangong-1 that has been careening out of control for the past year is expected to break up into Earth’s atmosphere anytime from now until April 2018. While authorities believe the odds of being nailed by pieces of the falling 9.4-ton space station whose name translates to “Heavenly Palace 1” are slim since most of the structure will burn up on reentry, astrophysisist Jonathan McDowell told The Guardian that hunks weighing 200 pounds or more could hit the Earth, so keep your hard hats ready! In fact, you can checkout the satellite-tracking website NSYO.com where you can monitor Tiangong-1’s spiral Earthward. Meanwhile, China’s “Heavenly Palace-2” launched last year housed Chinese “taikonauts” for 30 days 2016 along with various uncrewed missions.

Blown Out of Proportion

Speaking of headgear, Galactic Sandbox’s Tin Foil Hatter of the Week collectively goes to the media in general, and the New York Times in particular, for inadvertently turning its coverage of a recent study that looked at the timing of the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption 631,000 years ago into a frenzy of end-of-the-world headlines reading something like, “Yellowstone Supervolcano Could Erupt Sooner Than Expected.” According to Robert Walker of the excellent Science 2.0 site who confirmed  with one of the study’s authors that  the research had nothing to do with predicting any imminent blowup, “Nobody even knows if it will ever erupt again as a supervolcano. It may have finished doing that.” Walker added that there are between 1.4 and 22 supervolcanic eruptions globally every million years, and the chances per century of a catastrophic kablooey are between 1 in 500 and 1 in 7000. Walker also published the following instructive email from Mike Poland of the USGS, scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory”

“Unfortunately, the NY Times article, which was then picked up by a number of other news outlets, is a good example of how some research can be misunderstood, exaggerated, and sensationalized.  The research being described by the news articles is actually about the eruption that occurred approximately 631,000 years ago.  Researchers think that there might have been some sort of magma mixing event a few decades before that eruption.  The research has nothing to do with the current conditions beneath Yellowstone.  This is a critically important bit of information that most news outlets seem to have omitted, perhaps in order to make their story more attractive to readers.”

“We have no indication that there is any similar magma mixing event happening now, and surely we would know from earthquake activity, ground deformation, thermal anomalies, water chemistry, and other indicators that would show changes.  Yellowstone is one of the best monitored volcanoes on Earth, so these are changes we would not miss! “

Robert Walker: Tin Foil Hat foiler.

On a similar note, in light of all the Planet-X/judgement day flapdoodle bouncing around cyberspace recently, one should check out Walker’s Doomsday Debunked  Facebook group intended to help young adults 13 years and older as well as parents with children who get scared that the world will end before they group up. ” By scared I mean vomiting, panic attacks, crying constantly, often unable to eat or sleep … [or otherwise]  severely impacted in their lives by stories that suggest the world will end suddenly and completely before they can grow to adulthood.” Walker’s group, it should be noted, is not just for kids. Believe me, the rest of us need some hand-holding too.

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