Check out this insightful TED Talk on "How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries" given by Adam Savage, host of television's Mythbusters. The simple method he describes that was used to first calculate the speed of light is pretty inspiring.
Courtesy mars_discovery_districtWell, there certainly seems to be a lot of doom and gloom in the news these days: climate change, killer asteroids, End of the World prophesies, rogue states building nuclear weapons. It's enough to make a grown man burst into tears. There have been some bright spots in the future, though. The End of the World predicted by the Mayan calendar for next December seems to have already passed without a problem. Since the Mayans forgot to include Leap Year in their forecast, the deadline actually came and went about 7 months ago without much ado.
But what about all the other looming events? Those could still happen, couldn't they? I mean what's the point of getting out of bed if you're just going to get wiped out by the super volcano that's smoldering under Yellowstone National Park? I suppose that could actually happen. But, you know, even if it does, according to this video at New Scientist, it probably wouldn't mean all of humankind would go extinct. Just a lot of us. I'm sure you feel better now.
This kind of thing has been around for a long time but I always find it fun and enlightening. Click and play
Wondering where all the snow is? Is this normal? This short video from NASA Goddard will answer some of your questions.
Courtesy NASA Goddard Photo and VideoNASA has just released a very beautiful high-definition digital image of the Earth taken in several swaths by the VIIRS instrument aboard the agency's recently launched satellite Suomi NPP. One of the remarkable features of the large composite photo is the faint-blue ring of our atmosphere visible circling the Earth. This stunning image is available for viewing and downloading on Flickr. Note that the original file is 120 megabytes in size. Hey, since we're on the subject of Earth, why not come to the Science Museum to see the recently opened Future Earth exhibit on the museum's 3rd floor?
The future is now for some lucky Americans. The rest of us will have to wait and hope that someday soon our recycling trucks might also run on “trash gas.”
“Trash gas” is natural gas that is harvested from landfills where it is produced by the decomposition (breaking down) of organic waste. One future-thinking company, Waste Management Inc, now has over 1,000 trucks fueled by methane (a natural gas) that they collect from one of their very own California landfills.
Courtesy Tom Raftery
Natural gas can be used in vehicles in either a compressed or liquefied state. Waste Management’s trash gas trucks are about 50/50 compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). You should check out those links, but to give you the gist of the idea here, imagine a balloon filled with natural gas. CGN is like squeezing that balloon. LGN is like cooling that balloon until the molecules inside condense into liquid like steam on a bathroom wall.
Why is this a BIG idea? CNG and LNG emit less carbon and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere than diesel (the conventional fuel used by most large trucks). As you’ve probably heard, carbon dioxide is among the greenhouse gases contributing to global climate change. Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides contribute to smog, which is bad for your health besides being unsightly. Less is definitely more when it comes to carbon and nitrogen oxides.
As for more, Waste Management’s single currently operating LGN-generating landfill creates 13,000 gallons of LGN each day, which is enough to fuel 1,000 trucks. According to the primary source of this blog post, Waste Management has another landfill-turned-fuel station up for approval. With an additional 299 landfills and about 21,000 trucks, it might not be that long before a Waste Management “trash gas” truck comes rolling along your street.
Back in November, UC-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller surprised a number of people when he stated at a congressional briefing that “global warming is real.”
Muller had previously been called a climate skeptic for drawing attention to what he called numerous errors in the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” but his own extensive research showed none of his concerns about climate change science to be legitimate.
In fact, according to the Huffington Post, “Muller explained how his team reached the conclusion that in the last half-century the earth's temperature has risen roughly 1 degree Celsius, a number that exceeds the conservative 0.64 degree estimate put forth by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” His study was partially funded by the Koch brothers, oil-industry billionaires who have, on more than one occasion, funded studies by climate change deniers. The Koch brothers have since questioned Muller’s findings.
In a December Wall Street journal editorial, Bjorn Lomborg, author of the “Skeptical Environmentalist” conceded that global warming is a real threat and will hit developing countries hardest, but states that cutting carbon emissions won’t make much change in temperature over the next 30 years. He claims that rather than continuing to work on getting nations to lower emissions, we should just set up infrastructures to deal with the resulting problems from climate change. Bjorn, whose numbers and conclusions have often been questioned by scientists, seems to be saying we should just throw in the towel and stand back while economics determines our world’s future.
A few days later, the New York Times printed an article on the warming Artic permafrost, which contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. Scientists believe that both global warming, resulting from human activity, and wildfires may be catalyzing the thawing of permafrost, which releases methane gas into the atmosphere as the ancient plants and animals that make up the frozen tundra decompose. Although it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, methane gas is even better at trapping heat and will potentially make earth’s atmosphere warm at an even faster rate, thawing more permafrost, in a vicious cycle.
In the article, the experts said that “if humanity began getting its own emissions under control soon, the greenhouse gases emerging from permafrost could be kept to a much lower level.”
Skeptics are looking at the evidence and becoming believers. Science tells us that climate change is real, and is already well underway, but that we can still slow global warming by reducing carbon emissions. In other words, we shouldn’t throw in the towel.
Here are links to the three articles to which I referred:
Ten abandoned mining pits in Minnesota's Iron Range could have new life as pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants, according to a University of Minnesota,* Great River Energy, and Minnesota Power study.
[Hey, now: did you click on the hyperlink above? I don't put hyperlinks in posts for my own amusement, you know. They're for your viewing pleasure and learning enjoyment! Seriously though, click on them for great explanations, photos, diagrams, graphs, and more. You won't be disappointed.]
Courtesy Steve Fareham
Pumped-storage hydroelectric technology sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but it's really just a neat combination of water and wind energy technology. What makes pumped-storage hydroelectric projects sexy is that they make it possible to store excess energy generated by wind turbines on windy days. This stored energy can then be used during the inevitable calm days -- addressing one of the biggest issues for today's wind energy industry!
How does it work?
It's basic physics, my friends: building potential energy and releasing kinetic energy. Specifically, excess energy generated by wind turbines "is used to pump water from a low-lying reservoir to a higher elevation pool" within the mine pit. This builds the potential energy of the water. Then, when that energy is demanded, "water from the upper pool is released generating hydroelectricity and refilling the lower pool." This releases kinetic energy, which can be turned into electricity.
How effective is it?
Researchers estimated that a pumped-storage hydroelectric facility built in Virginia, MN could output the same electricity as a "modest-sized" generator burning natural gas. However, at a cost of $120 million, the pumped-hydro facility would be more expensive than a comparable natural gas generator.
There are 40 U.S. locations currently employing pumped-storage hydroelectricity technology, but there are no definite plans for any such projects in Minnesota -- yet.
Read the Star Tribune's coverage of this story here.
*Including scientists from UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, and Humphrey School of Public Affairs; and funded largely by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.
A few weeks ago, rumors were flying that BBC wasn't going to air the climate change episode of their new "Frozen Planet" series in the United States. Scientific American blogger Joanne Manaster helped start a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter to publicize what was going on how to contact BBC. The campaign appears to have been a sucess, and the complete Frozen Planet series, narrated by Alec Baldwin will debut in the U.S. on March 18th. I'll be watching.