New Plasma Device Considered The ‘Holy Grail’ Of Energy Generation And Storage
Scientists at the University of Missouri have devised a new way to create and control plasma that could transform American energy generation and storage.
Randy Curry, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering, and his team developed a device that launches a ring of plasma at distances of up to two feet. Although the plasma reaches a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun, it doesn’t emit radiation and is completely safe in proximity to humans.
While most of us are familiar with three states of matter – liquid, gas and solid – there is also a fourth state known as plasma, which includes things such as fire and lightning. Life on Earth depends on the energy emitted by plasma produced during fusion reactions within the sun.
The secret to Curry’s success was developing a way to make plasma form its own self-magnetic field, which holds it together as it travels through the air.
“Launching plasma in open air is the ‘Holy Grail’ in the field of physics,” said Curry.
Image: Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have created the first global topographic map of Saturn’s moon Titan, giving researchers a 3-D tool for learning more about one of the most Earthlike and interesting worlds in the solar system
Scientists have created the first global topographic map of Saturn’s moon Titan, giving researchers a valuable tool for learning more about one of the most Earth-like and interesting worlds in the solar system. The map was just published as part of a paper in the journal Icarus.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon - at 1,600 miles (2,574 kilometers) across it’s bigger than planet Mercury - and is the second-largest moon in the solar system. Scientists care about Titan because it’s the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds, surface liquids and a mysterious, thick atmosphere. The cold atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, like Earth’s, but the organic compound methane on Titan acts the way water vapor does on Earth, forming clouds and falling as rain and carving the surface with rivers. Organic chemicals, derived from methane, are present in Titan’s atmosphere, lakes and rivers and may offer clues about the origins of life.
“Titan has so much interesting activity - like flowing liquids and moving sand dunes - but to understand these processes it’s useful to know how the terrain slopes,” said Ralph Lorenz, a member of the Cassini radar team based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., who led the map-design team. “It’s especially helpful to those studying hydrology and modeling Titan’s climate and weather, who need to know whether there is high ground or low ground driving their models.”
Titan’s thick haze scatters light in ways that make it very hard for remote cameras to “see” landscape shapes and shadows, the usual approach to measuring topography on planetary bodies. Virtually all the data we have on Titan comes from NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft, which has flown past the moon nearly 100 times over the past decade. On many of those flybys, Cassini has used a radar imager, which can peer through the haze, and the radar data can be used to estimate the surface height.
“With this new topographic map, one of the most fascinating and dynamic worlds in our solar system now pops out in 3-D,” said Steve Wall, the deputy team lead of Cassini’s radar team, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “On Earth, rivers, volcanoes and even weather are closely related to heights of surfaces - we’re now eager to see what we can learn from them on Titan.”
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/JHUAPL/Cornell/Weizmann
The observed cloud-level atmospheric circulation on the outer planets of the Solar System is dominated by strong east–west jet streams. The depth of these winds is a crucial unknown in constraining their overall dynamics, energetics and internal structures. There are two approaches to explaining the existence of these strong winds. The first suggests that the jets are driven by shallow atmospheric processes near the surface, whereas the second suggests that the atmospheric dynamics extend deeply into the planetary interiors. Here we report that on Uranus and Neptune the depth of the atmospheric dynamics can be revealed by the planets’ respective gravity fields. We show that the measured fourth-order gravity harmonic, J4, constrains the dynamics to the outermost 0.15 per cent of the total mass of Uranus and the outermost 0.2 per cent of the total mass of Neptune. This provides a stronger limit to the depth of the dynamical atmosphere than previously suggested, and shows that the dynamics are confined to a thin weather layer no more than about 1,000 kilometres deep on both planets.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-uranus-neptune-confined-thin-atmosphere.html#jCp
Scientists working 2.4 kilometres below Earth’s surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen — the right stuff to support life.
Micrometre-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals’ formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth’s crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years.
“We were expecting these fluids to be possibly tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of years of age,” says Chris Ballentine, a geochemist at the University of Manchester, UK. He and his team carefully captured water flowing through fractures in the 2.7-billion-year-old sulphide deposits in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ontario, ensuring that the water did not come into contact with mine air.
To date the water, the team used three lines of evidence, all based on the relative abundances of various isotopes of noble gases present in the water. The authors determined that the fluid could not have contacted Earth’s atmosphere — and so been at the planet’s surface — for at least 1 billion years, and possibly for as long as 2.64 billion years, not long after the rocks it flows through formed. The study appears today in Nature.
“The isotopic compositions that they see in these samples are extremely strange, and the preferred explanation in the article seems to me the most likely one,” says Pete Burnard, a geochemist at the Centre of Petrographic and Geochemical Research in Vandœuvre-les-Nancy, France. “For the moment, I think we have to conclude that there are 1.5-billion-year-old fluids trapped in the crust.”
The findings are “doubly interesting”, Ballentine says, because the fluid carries the ingredients necessary to support life. The isolated water supply, he says, provides “secluded biomes, ecosystems, in which life, you can speculate, might have even originated”. His colleagues are now working to establish whether the water does harbour life.
The findings may also have implications for life on Mars, Ballentine says, though he acknowledges that the idea is speculative. The surface of Mars once held water and its rocks are chemically no different from those on Earth, he says. “There is no reason to think the same interconnected fluids systems do not exist there.”
How does a puffin hold so many fish in its mouth at once? The bloggers over at TYWKIWDBI did some research, and found the second photo above. It portrays:
An Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) shows off its tongue, which is specially adapted to allow it to carry many fish in its bill at one time. Atlantic puffins typically carry about 10 fish in their bills at one time, using their tongues to hold their catch against spines on their palate.
White dwarfs polluted with planetary debris
The Hubble Space Telescope has found chemical evidence for the building blocks for rocky planets in an extremely unusual place: the atmospheres of two burned-out stars. Called white dwarfs, these stars are small, dim shadows of stars that would have once been like our sun, and they reside 150 light-years from Earth in the young star cluster of Hyades. Hubble’s spectroscopic observations identified silicon and low levels of carbon, both of which are strong indicators of a rocky material similar to that which makes up Earth. “When these stars were born, they built planets,” said Jay Farihi, lead author of the study, “and there’s a good chance they currently retain some of them… Based on the silicon-to-carbon ratio in our study, we can actually say that this material is basically Earth-like.” The material is thought to have ended up in the atmosphere of these stars after they collapsed into white dwarfs, and the larger planets in their solar system nudged asteroids into star-grazing orbits. The stars’ gravitational pull tore the asteroids apart, and the pulverised debris fell into a ring around the white dwarfs and were eventually funnelled inwards to pollute the stars themselves. The discovery suggests that rocky planets may commonly assemble around stars, and may help us to understand what will happen to our solar system in five billion years, when our own sun burns out.
Coccolithophores are microscopic algae that first appeared 220 million years ago, and flourished during the cretaceous period. They produce peculiar plates called cocoliths out of calcium carbonate, and incorporate them into their shells. As they die and sink to the ocean floor, they remove carbon from the atmosphere and produce chalk. This biological activity is an important regulator of the global carbon cycle.
Yes, unfortunately the Velociraptor mongoliensis is more like a very aggressive roadrunner than a man-eating murder machine. But those aren’t the ‘raptors from the movies.
The “velociraptors” of Jurassic Park fame are actually Deinonychus, a (slightly) taller, equally roadrunnerish combination of tail and sickle-shaped toe claw. D-nikes (I made that name up) were not huge, but that claw could easily split you open like a bag of spaghetti.
There’s no real confirmation that they were “clever girls” or hunted in packs, and the insistence of JP’s directors on not adding feathers to these almost-certainly feathered death-chickens is kind of like a claw-toed slap in the face to paleontology.
Just like the great T. rex (which we talked about last week), our image of these dinos changes with new science, and will continue to change. Our fiction needs to change with them.
Edit: Several people have noted that Utahraptor is a close match in size to the movie ‘raptors (a death-ostrich, if you will), but that’s a lucky coincidence since it wasn’t discovered until after Jurassic Park was released.
(Dino images via Colin Douglas Howell on Wikipedia)
Burgess Shale arthropods by John Sibbick
Using advanced Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) technologies is an essential part of future missions into deep space with larger payloads. The use of robotics and advanced SEP technologies like this concept of an SEP-based spacecraft during NASA mission to find, rendezvous, capture and relocate an asteroid to a stable point in the lunar vicinity offers more mission flexibility than would be possible if a crewed mission went all the way to the asteroid.
NASA’s asteroid initiative, announced as part of the President’s FY2014 budget request, integrates the best of NASA’s science, technology, and human exploration capabilities and draws on the innovation of America’s brightest scientists and engineers. It uses current and developing capabilities to find both large asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth and small asteroids that could be candidates for the initiative, accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered SEP and takes advantage of our hard work on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, helping to keep NASA on target to reach the President’s goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.
For the first time in human history, carbon dioxide levels reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million, as reported this week. The last time the atmosphere contained this much carbon dioxide was 3 million years ago.
This new data comes from the Mauna Loa observatory and a set of data continuously collected since 1958: The Keeling curve. This represents almost a 50% increase since the beginning of the industrial age. Although there is some seasonal variability (that little jagged edge) due to seasonal vegetation sucking up a bit of the CO2 every year, the trend is clear … and it’s not good.
So what does that mean? The effects are not something to look forward to. The last time the CO2 level was this high, way back when, here’s what the world was like:
Back then, it was a different world. Global average temperatures during the period were between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) higher than today, and sea level was as much as 131 feet (40 meters) higher in some places.
While the average (which is calculated from levels over the past several days) has since dropped back to 399 (as of today), the saddest part is that both of those numbers are unacceptable. 400 is just a little more catchy. With 401 and beyond right around the corner, what now? We must cut emissions as fast as humanly possible.
Because we are mighty humans, and it is possible.
We need to take care, because we all share this air. Read about the science of our CO2 contribution here. Watch this episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart to gain some hope maybe.
What do you think is the #1 thing we can do to change? What are YOU willing to do?
This milestone got some buzz this week. These articles don’t show the harsh reality that billions of people are going to buy cars, laptops, cell phones, homes with lightswitches, heat, and A/C, and all the luxury goods we westerners enjoy.
Countless tens of millions of miles of roads, power lines, fiber optic cable, drinking water and sewer pipes, gas pipelines, and other infrastructure are slated to be built for decades on end.
There is no way emissions will stop growing. Every projection shows this (see the preeminent IEA’s ‘Fact Sheets’ to sober up).
The question is not, What are you willing to do? No, it’s Who is going to deny billions and billions of people in China, south Asia, Africa, India, South America, and eastern Europeans from accessing these goods and services in the coming years? Who’s going to stop growth?
Michael adds good counterpoint and perspective to my earlier comments. There is a harsh reality of expectation that Western affluence has created in developing countries, and that expectation is that everyone should have a shot at the life and luxuries that we have enjoyed for so long.
It’s hard not to just throw up your arms and just make exasperated sounds, right? Is it this hopeless? I don’t want it to be hopeless.
So maybe a better question is what are you willing to do to adapt?
A corona mass ejection (CME), associated with a solar flare, blew out from just around the edge of the Sun today in a glorious roiling wave (May 1, 2013).
The video, taken in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, covers about 2.5 hours. SOHO’s C2 and C3 coronagraphs shows a large, bright, circular cloud of particles heading out into space.
STEREO spacecraft, from their different perspectives in space, observed the flare. CME’s carry over a billion tons of particles at over a million miles per hour.
One of our Sun’s unusual features is its orbit around the center of the galaxy, which is significantly less elliptical (“eccentric”) than those of other stars similar in age (and therefore metallicity, or proportion of an object’s chemical composition other than hydrogen and helium) and type and is barely inclined relative to the Galactic plane. This circularity in the Sun’s orbit prevents it from plunging into the inner Galaxy where life-threatening supernovae are more common. Moreover, the small inclination to the galactic plane avoids abrupt crossings of the plane that would stir up the Sun’s Oort Cloud and bombard the Earth with life-threatening comets.
In fact, the Sun is orbiting very close to the “co-rotation radius” of the galaxy, where the angular speed of the galaxy’s spiral arms matches that of the stars within. As a result, the Sun avoids crossing the spiral arms very often, which would expose Earth to supernovae that are more common there. These exceptional circumstances may have made it more likely for complex life and human intelligence to emerge on Earth. According to Guillermo Gonzalez (an astronomer at Iowa State University), fewer than five percent of all stars in the galaxy enjoy such a life-enhancing galactic orbit. Other astronomers point out, however, that many nearby stars move with the Sun in a similar galactic orbit.
The Sun resides in a pancake region of the Galaxy called the “disk” with a strong concentration of stars (and gas and dust) within 3,000 light-years (ly) of the galactic plane, which includes the so-called “thin disk” that has more relatively younger stars within 1,500 ly of the plane (more on stellar population groups in our Milky Way Galaxy). This region contains relatively young to intermediate-aged stars that within around five billion years old with relatively higher average metallicity than other galactic regions located outside of the galactic core, in a circular band that broadens with time. Generated by the deaths of older stars, the greater availability of elements higher than hydrogen and helium in this galactic region favor the formation of rocky inner planets as large as Earth, or bigger (Gonzalez et al, 2001). Moreover, the galactic orbits of stars in this region tend to be relatively circular — with low to moderate eccentricity. According to one recent definition of the galactic habitable zone, as much as 10 percent of all stars in the Milky Way may have experienced chemical and environmental conditions suitable for the development of complex Earth-type life over the past eight to four billion years for evolutionary development (press release; and Lineweaver et al, 2004, in pdf). (Further discussion of the different galactic regions and their distinctive stellar populations is available from ChView’s “The Stars of the Milky Way.”)
In recent millenia, the Sun has been passing through a Local Interstellar Cloud (LIC) that is flowing away from the Scorpius-Centaurus Association of young stars dominated by extremely hot and bright O and B spectral types, many of which will end their brief lives violently as supernovae. The LIC is itself surrounded by a larger, lower density cavity in the interstellar medium (ISM) called the Local Bubble, that was probably formed by one or more relatively recent supernova explosions. As shown in a 2002 Astronomy Picture of the Day, located just outside the Local Bubble are: high-density molecular clouds such as the Aquila Rift which surrounds some star forming regions; the Gum Nebula, a region of hot ionized hydrogen gas which includes the Vela Supernova Remnant, which is expanding to create fragmented shells of material like the LIC; and the Orion Shell and Orion Association, which includes the Great Orion Nebula, the Trapezium of hot B- and O-type stars, the three belt stars of Orion, and local blue supergiant star Rigel.
An exotic pair of binary stars have proved that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is still right, even in the most extreme conditions tested yet. ”The unusual pair of stars is quite interesting in its own right but we’ve learned it is also a unique laboratory for testing the limits of one of our most fundamental physical theories, general relativity” says University of Toronto astronomy professor Marten van Kerkwijk, a member of the research team.What makes the pair of stars exceptional are the unique characteristics of each and their close proximity to each other. One is a tiny but unusually heavyneutron star– one of the most massive confirmed to date. NamedPSRJ0348+0432, it is the remnant of a supernova explosion, and is twice as heavy as the Sun yet is only 20 kilometres across. The neutron star is a pulsar that gives off radio waves that can be picked up on Earth by radio telescopes.
The gravity at its surface is more than 300 billion times stronger than that on Earth and at its centre every sugarcube-sized volume has more than one billion tonnes of matter squeezed into it, roughly the mass of every human past and present.
The massive star spins 25 times each second and is orbited by a rather lightweight dwarf star every two and a half hours, an unusually short period. Only slightly less exotic, the white dwarf is the glowing remains of a much lighter star that has lost its envelope and is slowly cooling. It can be observed in visible light, though only with large telescopes – it is about a million times too faint to be visible with the naked eye.
In the new work, led by Bonn PhD student John Antoniadis, very precise timing of the pulsar’s spin-modulated emission with radio telescopes was used to discover a tiny but significant change in the orbital period of the binary, of eight-millionths of a second per year. Given the masses of the pulsar and the white dwarf, inferred with the help of observations of the light emitted by the white dwarf – using techniques perfected by Antoniadis and van Kerkwijk – this turns out to match exactly what Einstein’s theory predicts.
Einstein’s general theory of relativityexplains gravity as a consequence of the curvature of spacetime created by the presence of mass and energy. As two stars orbit each other, gravitational waves are emitted – wrinkles moving out in spacetime. As a result, the binary slowly loses energy, the stars move closer, and the orbital period shortens.
The test posed by PSR J0348+0432 is particularly interesting because the massive star is a truly extreme object in terms of gravity, even compared to other pulsars that have been used to test general relativity. As a result, it causes exceptionally strong distortion of spacetime. In many alternatives to Einstein’s theory, this would cause the orbit to lose energy much faster than is observed.
“The observations disprove these alternatives,” says van Kerkwijk, “and thus give further confidence that Einstein’s theory is a good description of nature – even though we know it is not a complete one, given the unresolved inconsistencies with quantum mechanics.”
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