Tag: weather (page 3 of 7)

Ancient rocks show life could have flourished on Earth 3.2 billion years ago

photo of red rocks and blue sky
The oldest samples are sedimentary rocks that formed 3.2 billion years ago in
northwestern Australia. They contain chemical evidence for nitrogen
fixation by microbes.R. Buick / UW

Excerpt from

A spark from a lightning bolt, interstellar dust, or a subsea volcano could have triggered the very first life on Earth.
But what happened next? Life can exist without oxygen, but without plentiful nitrogen to build genes – essential to viruses, bacteria and all other organisms – life on the early Earth would have been scarce.

The ability to use atmospheric nitrogen to support more widespread life was thought to have appeared roughly 2 billion years ago. Now research from the University of Washington looking at some of the planet’s oldest rocks finds evidence that 3.2 billion years ago, life was already pulling nitrogen out of the air and converting it into a form that could support larger communities.

“People always had the idea that the really ancient biosphere was just tenuously clinging on to this inhospitable planet, and it wasn’t until the emergence of nitrogen fixation that suddenly the biosphere become large and robust and diverse,” said co-author Roger Buick, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences. “Our work shows that there was no nitrogen crisis on the early Earth, and therefore it could have supported a fairly large and diverse biosphere.”
The results were published Feb. 16 in Nature.

The authors analyzed 52 samples ranging in age from 2.75 to 3.2 billion years old, collected in South Africa and northwestern Australia. These are some of the oldest and best-preserved rocks on the planet. The rocks were formed from sediment deposited on continental margins, so are free of chemical irregularities that would occur near a subsea volcano. They also formed before the atmosphere gained oxygen, roughly 2.3 to 2.4 billion years ago, and so preserve chemical clues that have disappeared in modern rocks.

Even the oldest samples, 3.2 billion years old – three-quarters of the way back to the birth of the planet – showed chemical evidence that life was pulling nitrogen out of the air. The ratio of heavier to lighter nitrogen atoms fits the pattern of nitrogen-fixing enzymes contained in single-celled organisms, and does not match any chemical reactions that occur in the absence of life.

“Imagining that this really complicated process is so old, and has operated in the same way for 3.2 billion years, I think is fascinating,” said lead author Eva Stüeken, who did the work as part of her UW doctoral research. “It suggests that these really complicated enzymes apparently formed really early, so maybe it’s not so difficult for these enzymes to evolve.”

Genetic analysis of nitrogen-fixing enzymes have placed their origin at between 1.5 and 2.2 billion years ago.

“This is hard evidence that pushes it back a further billion years,” Buick said.

Fixing nitrogen means breaking a tenacious triple bond that holds nitrogen atoms in pairs in the atmosphere and joining a single nitrogen to a molecule that is easier for living things to use. The chemical signature of the rocks suggests that nitrogen was being broken by an enzyme based on molybdenum, the most common of the three types of nitrogen-fixing enzymes that exist now. 

Molybdenum is now abundant because oxygen reacts with rocks to wash it into the ocean, but its source on the ancient Earth – before the atmosphere contained oxygen to weather rocks – is more mysterious.

The authors hypothesize that this may be further evidence that some early life may have existed in single-celled layers on land, exhaling small amounts of oxygen that reacted with the rock to release molybdenum to the water.

“We’ll never find any direct evidence of land scum one cell thick, but this might be giving us indirect evidence that the land was inhabited,” Buick said. “Microbes could have crawled out of the ocean and lived in a slime layer on the rocks on land, even before 3.2 billion years ago.”

Future work will look at what else could have limited the growth of life on the early Earth. Stüeken has begun a UW postdoctoral position funded by NASA to look at trace metals such as zinc, copper and cobalt to see if one of them controlled the growth of ancient life.

Other co-authors are Bradley Guy at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, who provided some samples from gold mines, and UW graduate student Matthew Koehler. The research was funded by NASA, the UW’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, the Geological Society of America and the Agouron Institute.

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SpaceX Rocket’s Stunning View of Our Home Planet

Falcon 9 Carrying DSCOVR to L1
Image of Earth taken by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

Excerpt from news.discovery.com

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket made its first foray into deep space this week, depositing a U.S. space weather satellite into an orbit that eventually will reach more than four times farther away than the moon.

The rocket’s upper-stage deposited the Deep Space Climate Observatory, nicknamed DSCOVR, into an initial orbit that stretched more than 770,000 miles from Earth. From there, DSCOVR will spend the next 110 days getting itself into its operational orbit 930,000 miles from Earth and circling the sun.

A camera aboard the upper-stage shared the view. More pictures will be coming from DSCOVR. Though its main mission is to monitor the sun for potentially dangerous geomagnetic storms, the satellite has a camera that will be pointed to the sun-lit side of Earth. Pictures will be taken every two hours and posted on the Internet the following day.

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Moonquakes and blazing heat: What would life really be like on the Moon?

Lunar Base Made with 3D Printing

Excerpt from space.com

The idea of building a lunar outpost has long captured people's imaginations. But what would it really be like to live on the moon?
Space exploration has long focused on the moon, with Earth's satellite the setting for a number of significant missions. A 1959 Soviet spacecraft photographed the moon's far side for the first time, and in 1969, NASA landed people on the lunar surface for the first time. Numerous missions followed, including NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that beamed home the highest-resolution topographical lunar map to date, covering 98.2 percent of the moon's surface. 

Altogether, data beamed back from numerous missions suggest that no place on the moon would be a pleasant place to live, at least compared with Earth. Lunar days stretch for about 14 Earth days with average temperatures of 253 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius), while lunar nights also last 14 Earth days (due to the moon's rotation) and maintain a frigid cold of minus 387 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius). 

"About the only place we could build a base that wouldn't have to deal with these extremes is, oddly enough, near the lunar poles," said Rick Elphic, project scientist for NASA's LADEE probe, which studied the moon's atmosphere and dust environment before performing a planned crash into the natural satellitein April 2014. These areas likely store vast amounts of water-ice and enjoy low levels of light from the sun for several months at a time.

"Instead of the blazing heat of lunar noon, it is a kind of perpetual balmy sunset, with temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius [32 degrees Fahrenheit] due to the low angle of the sun," Elphic added.

Vacations away from pole outposts would offer up sights unlike anything on Earth. Decorating the moon's vast lava plains are large impact-borne "mountains," the tallest of which is 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) high, about the size of Mount Saint Elias on the border of Alaska and Canada. "Skylight" holes puncture some of the plains where lava likely drained into sub-surface caverns — the perfect adventure for lunar spelunkers.

The moon also sports huge craters, such as the 25-mile-wide (40 km) Aristarchus crater. A view from the rim of Aristarchus would "dwarf the Grand Canyon and make Meteor Crater in Arizona look like a hole in a putting green," Elphic told Space.com via email.

Lunar athletes would not need to check the forecast, however. Because of its very tenuous atmosphere, the moon has no weather. "Every day is sunny with no chance of rain!" Elphic added. You would, however, have to look out for so-called space weather, which includes meteor particles that can be as large as golf balls and highly energetic particles from solar flares.

Another potential danger would be moonquakes. Seismometers left on the lunar surface during Apollo show that the moon is still seismically active, and even has rare, hour-long quakes measuring up to 5.5 on the Richter scale. These quakes would be strong enough to cause structural damage to buildings.

"So don't leave Earth for your home on the moon thinking you've left seismic activity behind," Elphic said. "Make sure your lunar house is up to code."

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The Mystery of the Ghost Ship Lunatic

The Lunatic Piran found abandoned Jure Stwerk at the Helm           ...

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Planetary Situation Update

Clearing of the Chimera group continues. There is significant progress, but all intel pertaining to that must remain classified for now. However, here is a how you can participate in resolving the Chimera situation:  http://recreatingbalance1.blog...

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Cape hopes to be world’s busiest spaceport in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, with the
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, with the Air Force’s AFSPC-4 mission aboard.(Photo: United Launch Alliance)

Excerpt from news-press.com

With two dozen rockets projected to blast payloads into orbit, Cape Canaveral this year hopes to claim the title of "world's busiest spaceport," the Air Force's 45th Space Wing said Tuesday.
"It's a great time to be here," said Col. Thomas Falzarano, commander of the Wing's 45th Operations Group. "Business is booming."

Falzarano presented the Eastern Range launch forecast to several hundred guests at the National Space Club Florida Committee's meeting in Cape Canaveral.

Weather, technical issues and program changes frequently delay launches, so it's likely some of the missions will slip into next year. But the forecast shows the Space Coast launching at an increasingly busy clip even without human spaceflight missions, which aren't expected to resume for several years.

The 2015 forecast anticipates United Launch Alliance matching last year's total of 10 Cape launches, including eight by Atlas V rockets and two by Delta IV rockets.

And it assumes as many as 14 launches by SpaceX. Last year had six Falcon 9 flights.

That was SpaceX's most launches in a calendar year, but five fewer than was projected last January.

This year the company hopes to activate a second launch pad, complementing its existing one at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The debut of the Falcon Heavy rocket from a former Apollo and shuttle pad at Kennedy Space Center would be one of this year's most highly anticipated launches.

In addition, SpaceX plans to launch more ISS resupply missions, and commercial and government satellites.

ULA's first launch of the year is coming up Tuesday, with an Atlas V targeting a 7:43 p.m. liftoff with a Navy communications satellite.

The Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture has its usual slate of high-value science and national security missions. The manifest includes a roughly $1 billion NASA science mission, an X-37B military space plane and more Global Positioning System satellites.

Overall last year, the 45th Space Wing supported 16 space launches — five less than projected last January (all attributed to SpaceX) — plus two Trident missile tests launched from submarines.
That ranked the Cape No. 2 behind the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan, Falzarano said.

But with 24 missions potentially on the books this year and more than 30 in various planning stages for 2016, Falzarano said the Eastern Range is facing its busiest two-year stretch in more than two decades.

"The Cape, right here, is going to be the busiest spaceport in the world," he said.

Growing launch rate
2013: 14
2014: 18
2015: 24 (projected)
Source: U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing

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What to Do If You See a Pet Left Out in the Cold

Concerned neighbors rescued Barbie and her puppies from the snow. Scott Townsend

From humanesociety.org

It can be a crime to leave pets outside in extreme temperatures without food and shelter

Cold weather can be deadly for pets. As the temperature plummets in many parts of the country, The Humane Society of the United States sees a marked increase in the number of complaints about dogs and cats who have been left outside with no food or shelter.

We encourage you to contact local law enforcement agencies because pets left outside in extreme temperatures, especially without food and shelter, are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and even death. Their owners are at risk of facing criminal charges.

The act of leaving a pet outside without food or adequate shelter often receives less attention than a violent attack against an animal, but neglect is a crime. "Especially in these cold months, it is important for people to bring their pets inside and for others to report neglected animals to law enforcement,” says Ashley Mauceri, HSUS manager for cruelty response, who fields these calls.

One of the most common forms of animal cruelty, cases of animals left outside in dangerous weather are investigated more by police and animal control agencies than any other form of animal abuse. Our most constant companions—dogs and cats—feel the effects of winter weather as much as we do, only they are often cast outside to weather the cold or a storm owing to a misconception that the fur on their backs will insulate them from suffering. Without proper shelter, food and water, these domesticated animals’ chances of survival in frigid temperatures is greatly decreased. Any pet owners who aren't sure what protections their pets need during cold weather can read our cold-weather advice for keeping pets safe.

While views on animal welfare vary from region to region, there are laws in place in every state to prevent needless suffering. Callers to The HSUS report numerous cases across the country of animals left out in the cold, but the organization is also working with an increasing number of law enforcement agencies that recognize the importance of intervention in these cases.

The facts

  • Animal neglect is considered a misdemeanor crime in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • Felony penalties can be levied in Massachusetts and Oklahoma for any animal neglect case.
  • Felony charges can be applied in animal neglect resulting in death in California, Connecticut, Florida and Washington, D.C.

 How you can help

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Did drought doom the Mayan Empire? New evidence from Belize’s ‘Blue Hole’

Minerals taken from lagoons reveal a century-long drought occurred between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated.

Excerpt from Livescience.com

By Tia Ghose  

Drought may have driven the ancient Mayan Empire to collapse, new research suggests.

Minerals taken from Belize's famous underwater cave, known as the Blue Hole, as well as lagoons nearby, show that an extreme, century-long drought occurred between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, right when the Mayan civilization disintegrated. After the rains returned, the Mayans moved north — but they disappeared again a few centuries later, and that disappearance occurred at the same time as another dry spell, the sediments reveal. 

Rise and decline

From A.D. 300 to A.D. 700, the Mayan civilization flourished in the Yucatan peninsula. These ancient Mesoamericans built stunning pyramids, mastered astronomy, and developed both a hieroglyphic writing system and a calendar system, which is famous for allegedly predicting that the world would end in 2012.

But in the centuries after A.D. 700, the civilization's building activities slowed and the culture descended into warfare and anarchy. Historians have speculatively linked that decline with everything from the ancient society's fear of malevolent spirits to deforestation completed to make way for cropland to the loss of favored foods, such as the Tikal deer.

The evidence for a drought has been growing in recent years: Since at least 1995, scientists have been looking more closely at the effects of drought. A 2012 study in the journal Science analyzed a 2,000-year-old stalagmite from a cave in southern Belize and found that sharp decreases in rainfall coincided with periods of decline in the culture. But that data came from just one cave, which meant it was difficult to make predictions for the area as a whole, Droxler said.

The main driver of this drought is thought to have been a shift in the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), a weather system that generally dumps water on tropical regions of the world while drying out the subtropics. During summers, the ITCZ pelts the Yucatan peninsula with rain, but the system travels farther south in the winter. Many scientists have suggested that during the Mayan decline, this monsoon system may have missed the Yucatan peninsula altogether.

Deep history

The team found that during the period between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1000, when the Mayan civilization collapsed, there were just one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, as opposed to the usual five or six. After that, the Maya moved north, building at sites such as Chichen Itza, in what is now Mexico.

But the new results also found that between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1100, during the height of the Little Ice Age, another major drought struck. This period coincides with the fall of Chichen Itza.

The findings strengthen the case that drought helped usher in the long decline of the Mayan culture.

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Ursid Meteor Shower Peaks: Here’s How to See It

Image: Geminid meteor shower
December is usually marked by a series of meteor showers. Geminid meteors (like the one seen in this picture of Florida) light up the skies at the beginning of the month, while the Ursids - which peak Monday night (Dec. 22) - put on a show just before Christmas.

Excerpt from space.com

The Ursid meteor shower peaks tonight, and it should be a great show. 

When skywatchers think of meteor showers during the month of December, the Geminid shower (which peaked earlier this month) usually comes to mind. But the Ursid meteor shower — peaking tonight and into the wee hours of Tuesday (Dec. 23) morning — should also offer skywatchers a good view this year. 

Even if you can't see tonight's meteor shower due to light pollution or bad weather, you can still catch the Ursids online thanks to the Slooh Community Observatory. Tune in for Slooh's Ursid meteor shower webcast tonight starting at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 23 GMT) live on Space.com. You can also watch the webcast directly through Slooh.
The Ursids are so named because they appear to fan out from the vicinity of the bright orange star Kochab, in the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Kochab is the brighter of the two outer stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper (the other being Pherkad), that seem to march in a circle like sentries around the North Star, Polaris. These meteors are sometimes called the Umids, in a rather unsuccessful attempt to make clear that their radiant is in Ursa Minor, not Ursa Major. 

The fact that Kochab is positioned so near to the north pole of the sky means that this star almost never sets for most viewers in the Northern Hemisphere. And since the Ursids seem to fan out from this particular region of the sky, you have a reference point to look for these faint, medium-speed meteors all through the night if you care to. 

The fact that the shower peaks tonight is good news for observers braving the cold to see the display. The moon is just one day past its new phase, meaning that light reflected from Earth's natural satellite won't wash out the shower.

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Must-See Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend: An Observer’s Guide

2014 Geminid Meteor Shower Sky Map

Excerpt from

The spectacular Geminid Meteor shower hits peak activity this weekend. Though competing with some unfortunate moonlight, the shower still should make for a must-see astronomical event.

While moonlight will somewhat hinder this year's Geminid meteor shower, intrepid observers with good weather and low light pollution should still be able to catch a good meteor show Saturday (Dec. 13) night.

"If you have not seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor," note astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg. 

Even if you can't see the meteor display from your part of the world, you can watch them online. The online Slooh Community Observatory will host a live webacst of the Geminid meteor display on Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 14 GMT).You can also watch the Slooh webcast directly:http://live.slooh.com/. NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke will also host a live Geminids webchat on Saturday night from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EST (0400 to 0800 GMT), as well as a live webcast.
You can watch the webcasts of the Geminid shower live on Space.com, starting at 8 p.m. EST, courtesy of Slooh and NASA. The Italy-based Virtual Telescope Project will also host a Geminds webcast, beginning at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT).

Although the bright moon will be high in the sky by 11:30 p.m. local time Saturday (Dec. 13) (during the shower's peak), skywatchers can still catch a potentially incredible show before the moon creeps above the horizon, washing out the sky. Stargazers might be able to see an average of one or two Geminid meteors per minute Saturday before the moon rises.

By around 9 p.m., the constellation Gemini — the part of the sky where the meteors seem to emanate from — will have climbed more than one-third of the way up from the horizon. Meteor sightings should begin to really increase noticeably thereafter. By around 2 a.m., the last-quarter moon will be low in the east-southeast, but Gemini will stand high overhead. So you might still see a good number of meteors in spite of the moon's presence.

A brilliant shower

The Geminids are, for those willing to brave the chill of a December night, a very fine winter shower, and usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers. They can even surpass the brilliant August Perseid meteor shower.

Studies of past displays show that the Geminid shower is rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs, as well as in faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness. Many Geminids appear yellowish in hue; some even appear to form jagged or divided paths.     

These meteors travel at a medium speed and appear to emanate, specifically, from near the bright star Castor, in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, hence the name "Geminid." In apparent size, that's less than half the width of the moon. As such, this is a rather sharply defined radiant as most meteor showers go. It suggests the stream is "young," perhaps only several thousand years old.

Generally speaking, depending on your location, Castor begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight comes to an end. As the Gemini constellation begins to climb the eastern sky just after darkness falls, there is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors. Earthgrazers are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from a point near to even just below the horizon. Such meteors are so distinctive because they follow long paths nearly parallel to the Earth's atmosphere. 

Because Geminid meteoroids are several times denser than the comet dust that supply most meteor showers and because of the relatively slow speed with which the Geminids encounter Earth (22 miles or 35 kilometers per second), these meteors appear to linger a bit longer in view than most. As compared to an Orionid or Leonid meteor that can whiz across your line of sight in less than a second, a Geminid meteor moves only about half as fast. Personally, their movement reminds me of field mice scooting from one part of the sky to another.

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How will the world end? From ‘demonic’ AI to nuclear war — seven scenarios that could end human race


Humanity may have already created its own nemesis, Professor Stephen Hawking warned last week. The Cambridge University physicist claimed that new developments in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) mean that within a few decades, computers thousands of times more powerful than in existence today may decide to usurp their creators and effectively end humanity’s 100,000-year dominance of Earth.
This Terminator scenario is taken seriously by many scientists and technologists. Before Prof. Hawking made his remarks, Elon Musk, the genius behind the Tesla electric car and PayPal, had stated that “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” comparing it unfavourably with nuclear war as the most potent threat to humanity’s existence.
Aside from the rise of the machines, many potential threats have been identified to our species, our civilization, even our planet. To keep you awake at night, here are seven of the most plausible.
Getty Images / ThinkStock
Getty Images / ThinkStockAn artist's depiction of an asteroid approaching Earth.
Our solar system is littered with billions of pieces of debris, from the size of large boulders to objects hundreds of kilometres across. We know that, from time to time, these hit the Earth. Sixty-five-million years ago, an object – possibly a comet a few times larger than the one on which the Philae probe landed last month – hit the Mexican coast and triggered a global winter that wiped out the dinosaurs. In 1908, a smaller object hit a remote part of Siberia and devastated hundreds of square kilometres of forest. Last week, 100 scientists, including Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal, called for the creation of a global warning system to alert us if a killer rock is on the way.
Probability: remote in our lifetime, but one day we will be hit.
Result: there has been no strike big enough to wipe out all life on Earth – an “extinction-level event” – for at least three billion years. But a dino-killer would certainly be the end of our civilization and possibly our species.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.When artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, there is a chance it will look something like this scene from Terminator 3.
Prof. Hawking is not worried about armies of autonomous drones taking over the world, but something more subtle – and more sinister. Some technologists believe that an event they call the Singularity is only a few decades away. This is a point at which the combined networked computing power of the world’s AI systems begins a massive, runaway increase in capability – an explosion in machine intelligence. By then, we will probably have handed over control to most of our vital systems, from food distribution networks to power plants, sewage and water treatment works, and the global banking system. The machines could bring us to our knees without a shot being fired. And we cannot simply pull the plug, because they control the power supplies.

Probability: unknown, although computing power is doubling every 18 months. We do not know if machines can be conscious or “want” to do anything, and sceptics point out that the cleverest computers in existence are currently no brighter than cockroaches.
Result: if the web wakes up and wants to sweep us aside, we may have a fight on our hands (perhaps even something similar to the man vs. machines battle in the Terminator films). But it is unlikely that the machines will want to destroy the planet – they “live” here, too.
Handout/AFP/Getty Images
Handout/AFP/Getty ImagesLaboratory technicians and physicians work on samples during research on the evolving Ebola disease in bats, at the Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases research Laboratory of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Pretoria on Nov. 21, 2011.
This is possibly the most terrifying short-term threat because it is so plausible. The reason Ebola has not become a worldwide plague – and will not do so – is because it is so hard to transmit, and because it incapacitates and kills its victims so quickly. However, a modified version of the disease that can be transmitted through the air, or which allows its host to travel around for weeks, symptom-free, could kill many millions. It is unknown whether any terror group has the knowledge or facilities to do something like this, but it is chilling to realize that the main reason we understand Ebola so well is that its potential to be weaponized was quickly realized by defence experts.
Probability: someone will probably try it one day.
Result: potentially catastrophic. “Ordinary” infectious diseases such as avian-flu strains have the capability to wipe out hundreds of millions of people.
AP Photo/U.S. Army via Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
AP Photo/U.S. Army via Hiroshima Peace Memorial MuseumA mushroom cloud billows about one hour after a nuclear bomb was detonated above Hiroshima, Japan Aug. 6, 1945.
This is still the most plausible “doomsday” scenario. Despite arms-limitations treaties, there are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads and bombs in existence – many more, in theory, than would be required to kill every human on Earth. Even a small nuclear war has the potential to cause widespread devastation. In 2011, a study by NASA scientists concluded that a limited atomic war between India and Pakistan involving just 100 Hiroshima-sized detonations would throw enough dust into the air to cause temperatures to drop more than 1.2C globally for a decade.
Probability: high. Nine states have nuclear weapons, and more want to join the club. The nuclear wannabes are not paragons of democracy.
Result: it is unlikely that even a global nuclear war between Russia and NATO would wipe us all out, but it would kill billions and wreck the world economy for a century. A regional war, we now know, could have effects far beyond the borders of the conflict.
CERN)/MCTThis is one of the huge particle detectors in the Large Hadron Collider, a 17 mile-long tunnel under the French-Swiss border. Scientists are searching for evidence of what happened right after- and perhaps before- the Big Bang.
Before the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the massive machine at CERN in Switzerland that detected the Higgs boson a couple of years ago, was switched on, there was a legal challenge from a German scientist called Otto Rossler, who claimed the atom-smasher could theoretically create a small black hole by mistake – which would then go on to eat the Earth.
The claim was absurd: the collisions in the LHC are far less energetic than those caused naturally by cosmic rays hitting the planet. But it is possible that, one day, a souped-up version of the LHC could create something that destroys the Earth – or even the universe – at the speed of light.
Probability: very low indeed.
Result: potentially devastating, but don’t bother cancelling the house insurance just yet.
AP Photo/Oculus Rift/Fox
AP Photo/Oculus Rift/FoxThis photo shows a scene fromX-Men: Days of Future Past virtual reality experience. Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom has speculated that our universe may be one of countless "simulations" running in some alien computer, much like a computer game.
Many scientists have pointed out that there is something fishy about our universe. The physical constants – the numbers governing the fundamental forces and masses of nature – seem fine-tuned to allow life of some form to exist. The great physicist Sir Fred Hoyle once wondered if the universe might be a “put-up job”.
More recently, the Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom has speculated that our universe may be one of countless “simulations” running in some alien computer, much like a computer game. If so, we have to hope that the beings behind our fake universe are benign – and do not reach for the off-button should we start misbehaving.
Probability: according to Professor Bostrom’s calculations, if certain assumptions are made, there is a greater than 50% chance that our universe is not real. And the increasingly puzzling absence of any evidence of alien life may be indirect evidence that the universe is not what it seems.
Result: catastrophic, if the gamers turn against us. The only consolation is the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastFloodwaters from the Souris River surround homes near Minot State University in Minot, N.D. on June 27, 2011. Global warming is rapidly turning America the beautiful into America the stormy and dangerous, according to the National Climate Assessment report released Tuesday, May 6, 2014.
Almost no serious scientists now doubt that human carbon emissions are having an effect on the planet’s climate. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that containing temperature rises to below 2C above the pre-industrial average is now unlikely, and that we face a future three or four degrees warmer than today.
This will not literally be the end of the world – but humanity will need all the resources at its disposal to cope with such a dramatic shift. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change will really start to kick in just at the point when the human population is expected to peak – at about nine billion by the middle of this century. Millions of people, mostly poor, face losing their homes to sea-level rises (by up to a metre or more by 2100) and shifting weather patterns may disrupt agriculture dramatically.
Probability: it is now almost certain that CO2 levels will keep rising to 600 parts per billion and beyond. It is equally certain that the climate will respond accordingly.
Result: catastrophic in some places, less so in others (including northern Europe, where temperature rises will be moderated by the Atlantic). The good news is that, unlike with most of the disasters here, we have a chance to do something about climate change now.

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NASA’s Orion Conquers Orbital Test as U.S. Budget Debate Looms

Excerpt from

The Orion spacecraft’s almost flawless debut flight set the stage for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next challenge: finding the funding to carry humans to Mars in the 2030s. 
The Apollo-like capsule orbited Earth twice yesterday to test critical functions, a 4 1/2-hour trip for the first U.S. vehicle built to transport humans to space since the shuttle in 1981. Now NASA must find political allies to keep championing a program that has already cost $7.4 billion. 

The voyage, less than two months after a pair of disasters stunned the commercial space industry, helps bolster NASA’s case for its biggest-ever expedition. Spending over 20 years for a Mars mission would dwarf outlays for the $100 billion International Space Station, the most expensive structure ever built.

“We have a new Congress in January -- let’s see what happens,” said Henry Hertzfeld, research professor of space policy and international affairs at George Washington University. At the very least, “anytime you have a success like that on something new, it’s great.” 

The NASA exploration budget that finances Orion and a new heavy-lift rocket is one of the few non-defense budget accounts for which House Republicans have proposed an increase from President Barack Obama’s request for fiscal 2015, said Brian Friel, a government fiscal analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Spending Projections

Spending would rise 5 percent to $4.17 billion under the House bill, while the Senate proposes a 10 percent increase to $4.37 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The largest beneficiaries from more spending would be Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US), which manufactured the Orion, and Boeing Co. (BA:US), the contractor’s co-owner of the venture building the new rocket.

Orion is the first spaceship developed to carry humans beyond the moon, and later versions will be fine-tuned to travel to asteroids next decade and to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is targeting an Orion trip with astronauts by 2021. 

While Orion was among the top trending topics worldwide on Twitter.com, NASA’s new ambitions are unfolding amid a federal budget squeeze and the short attention spans of the social-media era, not the race-for-the-moon competition of the Cold War. 

At Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried Orion aloft, some of the weather-worn buildings displayed faded signs from news organizations that once camped out to chronicle the Apollo program. They were a reminder that interest in NASA diminished after the U.S. won the race to the moon.

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