Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Are Humans to Blame? Science Is Out


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From the darkened living rooms of Lower Manhattan to the wave-battered shores of Lake Michigan, the question is occurring to millions of people at once: Did the enormous scale and damage fromHurricane Sandy have anything to do with climate change?
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Green
A blog about energy and the environment.
Lindsay Niegelberg/The Stamford Advocate
A hurricane barrier in Stamford, Conn. Experts say that the storm, whatever its causes, should be seen as a warning. More Photos »
Hesitantly, climate scientists offered an answer this week that is likely to satisfy no one, themselves included. They simply do not know for sure if the storm was caused or made worse by human-induced global warming.
They do know, however, that the resulting storm surge along the Atlantic coast was almost certainly intensified by decades of sea-level rise linked to human emissions of greenhouse gases. And they emphasized that Hurricane Sandy, whatever its causes, should be seen as a foretaste of trouble to come as the seas rise faster, the risks of climate change accumulate and the political system fails to respond.
“We’re changing the environment — it’s very clear,” saidThomas R. Knutson, a research meteorologist with the government’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. “We’re changing global temperature, we’re changing atmospheric moisture, we’re changing a lot of things. Humans are running this experiment, and we’re not quite sure how it’s going to turn out.”
By the time Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast coast on Monday, upending lives across the Eastern half of the country, it had become a freakish hybrid of a large, late-season hurricane and a winter storm more typical of the middle latitudes. Though by no means unprecedented, that type of hybrid storm is rare enough that scientists have not studied whether it is likely to become more common in a warming climate.
“My profession hasn’t done its homework,” said Kerry A. Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I think there’s going to be a ton of papers that come out of this, but it’s going to take a couple of years.”
Scientists note that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which in principle supplies more energy for storms of all types. The statistics seem to show that certain types of weather extremes, notably heat waves and heavy downpours, are becoming more common.
But how those general principles will influence hurricanes has long been a murky and contentious area of climate science. Most scientists expect that the number of Atlantic hurricanes will actually stay steady or decline in coming decades as the climate warms, but that the proportion of intense, damaging storms is likely to rise.
The experts differ sharply on whether such a rise can already be detected in hurricane statistics. Recent decades seem to show an increase in hurricane strength, but hurricanes tend to rise and fall in a recurring cycle over time, so it is possible that natural variability accounts for the recent trends.
Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and founder of a popular Web site, Weather Underground, suspects some kind of shift is under way. The number of hurricanes and tropical storms over the past three years has been higher than average, with 19 named storms in both 2010 and 2011 and 19 so far this hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30. According to the National Hurricane Center there are, on average, 12 named storms each season.
“The climatology seems to have changed,” Dr. Masters said. “We’re getting these very strange, very large storms with very low central pressures that don’t have that much wind at the surface.”
Hurricanes draw their energy from warm waters in the top layer of the ocean. And several scientists pointed out this week that parts of the western Atlantic were remarkably warm for late October as Hurricane Sandy passed over, as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal for this time of year.
Kevin E. Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said that natural variability probably accounted for most of that temperature extreme. But, he added, human-induced global warming has raised the overall temperature of the ocean surface by about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. So global warming probably contributed a notable fraction of the energy on which the storm thrived — maybe as much as 10 percent, he said.
Dr. Trenberth said that many of Sandy’s odd features, including its large scale, derived from its origin as a merger of two weather systems that converged in the western Atlantic.
“My view is that a lot of this is chance,” he said. “A hybrid storm is certainly one which is always in the cards, and it’s one we’ve always worried about.”
Winds knocked out power as far west as Michigan. But the most serious damage, including the flooding of New York’s subway tunnels and the broad destruction along the Jersey Shore, came as the storm pushed roiling ocean waters onto land, a phenomenon known as storm surge. The surge set records in some places, including the Battery in Lower Manhattan.
Globally, the ocean rose about eight inches in the last century, and the rate seems to have accelerated to about a foot a century.
Scientists say most of the rise is a direct consequence of human-induced climate change. Ocean water expands when it warms, accounting for some of the rise, and land ice is melting worldwide, dumping extra water into the ocean. Scientists say they believe the rate will accelerate further, so that the total increase by the end of this century could exceed three feet.

Obama Tours Storm-Ravaged New Jersey With Gov. Chris Christie - NYTimes.com

Obama Tours Storm-Ravaged New Jersey With Gov. Chris Christie - NYTimes.com:

"WASHINGTON — President Obama toured the storm-tossed boardwalks of New Jersey’s ravaged coastline on Wednesday, in a vivid display of big-government muscle and bipartisan harmony that confronted Mitt Romney with a vexing challenge just as he returned to the campaign trail in Florida."

'via Blog this'

Will Climate Change Get Some Respect Now? - NYTimes.com

Will Climate Change Get Some Respect Now? - NYTimes.com:

"President Obama and Mitt Romney seemed determined not to discuss climate change in this campaign. So thanks to Hurricane Sandy for forcing the issue: Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate?"

'via Blog this'

Tracking the Storm - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com

Tracking the Storm - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com:

"With Hurricane Sandy’s surge receding, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, in Lacey Township, N.J., ended its “alert” at 3:52 a.m. on Wednesday and returned to normal operations, meaning a shutdown for refueling that began a week before the storm."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wind-Driven Flames Reduce Scores of Homes to Embers In Queens Enclave - NYTimes.com

Wind-Driven Flames Reduce Scores of Homes to Embers In Queens Enclave - NYTimes.com:

"The flooded streets formed a barrier around the flames, keeping firefighters away as the blaze, fueled by Hurricane Sandy’s neck-snapping winds and undeterred by its steady rains, leapt from house to house, then block to block."

'via Blog this'

Hurricane Sandy Barrels Region, Leaving Battered Path - NYTimes.com

Hurricane Sandy Barrels Region, Leaving Battered Path - NYTimes.com:

"The New York region began the daunting process on Tuesday of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that remade the landscape and rewrote the record books as it left behind a tableau of damage, destruction and grief."

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Scoop Dupes


Well, we’re safe, comfortable — and trapped. I don’t know if you can drive across a downed power line that’s stretched right across your driveway, but I guess no point in trying. I hope PSE&G doesn’t take too many days to at least remove the line, never mind actually restoring power..
Limited blogging due to limited bandwidth (and don’t be surprised if comment moderation lags, since both here and at the Times conditions are, shall we say, not ideal). But I thought I’d weigh in on this post by Brad DeLong.
Brad has fun with Jonathan Martin of Politico, who thinks that liberals will be deeply disheartened to learn that Nate Silver “admits” that he’s mainly relying on public polls for his forecast. Of course, Nate has been clear about that all along — and what should he be doing? And look: the message from the polls is very clear: national surveys show a tight race or a slight Romney lead, but state polls — which are telling us about the electoral vote — show a clear if narrow Obama advantage in enough states to win the electoral college. Those polls would have to be off, systematically, by about 2 percent for Romney to win. So the odds are in Obama’s favor.
Oh, and don’t quote some poll or other that seems to say different. Polls have a margin of error (duh). This means that if there are a lot of polls, say of Ohio, sheer luck of the draw will produce a couple of polls seeming to tell a different story. That’s why all the serious analysts rely on poll averages, and stick to those averages rather than picking and choosing.
But Martin’s tweet also reveals a broader issue in reporting, which I’ve commented on before, I think (no time to search): the unhealthy cult of the inside scoop.
A lot of political journalism, and even reporting on policy issues, is dominated by the search for the “secret sauce”, as Martin puts it: the insider who knows What’s Really Going On. Background interviews with top officials are regarded as gold, and the desire to get those interviews often induces reporters to spin on demand.
But such inside scoops are rarely — I won’t say never, but rarely — worth a thing. My experience has been that careful analysis of publicly available information almost always trumps the insider approach.
This is sort of obviously true in election season: in a vast, diverse country, no amount of talking with big shots (who are pushing an agenda) — or for that matter hanging out at campaign events and trying to assess the mood — is a substitute for polls that collectively sample tens of thousands of voters.
It’s even more obviously true on economic matters, where top officials basically work from the same data everyone else has, and a smart economist is almost always a better guide than the Minister of Silly Walks.
Remarkably, it has even been true for national security. Reporters with top-level access got completely snookered by the lies about Iraq, while many ordinary concerned citizens, looking at what we actually seemed to know, figured out early on that the Bush administration was cooking up a false case for war.
Now obviously there are some personal stakes here. If the right way to assess an election is by parsing the polls, this elevates nerds from nowhere at the expense of political reporters who spend their lives cultivating contacts, and really aren’t comfortable with numbers. And no doubt my own tribalism makes me especially sympathetic to nerds like me.
But I don’t think that’s all there is to what I’m saying. The truth is that anyone who understands numbers and has access to polling data is in a position to make a very informed judgment about the state of the race; and nobody who doesn’t understand numbers is in a position to do the same, no matter who he knows.

NYT

Hurricane Sandy Barrels Region, Leaving Battered Path - NYTimes.com

Hurricane Sandy Barrels Region, Leaving Battered Path - NYTimes.com:

"In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which left a trail of deadly destruction, devastating power failures and extensive flooding, millions of people in the New York metropolitan region spent Tuesday assessing the damage and preparing for the possibility that it could be days or even weeks before life returned to normal."

'via Blog this'

Monday, October 29, 2012

Havoc as Storm Comes Ashore - NYTimes.com

Havoc as Storm Comes Ashore - NYTimes.com:

"Hurricane Sandy battered the mid-Atlantic region on Monday, its powerful gusts and storm surges causing once-in-a-generation flooding in coastal communities, knocking down trees and power lines and leaving about two million people — including a large swath of Manhattan — in the rain-soaked dark. At least seven deaths in the New York region were tied to the storm."

'via Blog this'

For North Dakota Paleontologist, It Started With a Turtle - NYTimes.com

For North Dakota Paleontologist, It Started With a Turtle - NYTimes.com:

"MARMARTH, N.D. — It is not uncommon for young girls and boys to ask their parents for a pet turtle. But how many children collect dead ones?"

'via Blog this'

Why New York City?

Soon NYC will be under attack by Tropical Storm Sandy, just like last year by Irene. It seems though, this time it will be worse; why?

Hurricanes are fed by water and heat. Given the drought in the central part of the US, I reckon, that water has to go somewhere. Heat, I can feel it right here in the greater Chicago area. Besides today we have a full moon. Perfect Storm!

When the Sun, Earth and Moon align, we get more gravity effects. Tides will be higher. More than 10 feet in some areas of the hurricane path.

These were worries of the Pirates of the Caribbean, now the Wall Street Pirates are feeling it.

Does it mean something?

I am not superstitious, but it will be karma if the 1% get a little signal to warn them off, of their wayward ways.

Hurricane Sandy Predicted to Bring ‘Life-Threatening’ Surge - NYTimes.com

Hurricane Sandy Predicted to Bring ‘Life-Threatening’ Surge - NYTimes.com:

"Hurricane Sandy churned relentlessly through the Atlantic Ocean on Monday on the way to carving what forecasters agreed would be a devastating path on land that is expected to paralyze life for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations, once-in-a-generation flooding, widespread power failures and mass transit disruptions."

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Nostalgia for the Light - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nostalgia for the Light - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Nostalgia for the Light (Spanish: Nostalgia de la Luz) is a documentary released in 2010 by Patricio Guzmán to address the lasting impacts of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.[1] Guzmán focuses on the similarities between astronomers researching humanity’s past, in an astronomical sense, and the struggle of many Chilean women who still search, after decades, for the remnants of their relatives executed during the dictatorship. Patricio Guzmán narrates the documentary himself and the documentary includes interviews and commentary from those affected and from astronomers and archeologists."

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Gulf Stream Shift Linked to Methane Gas Escaping from Seabeds: Scientific American

Gulf Stream Shift Linked to Methane Gas Escaping from Seabeds: Scientific American:

"The new work could reinvigorate a debate on the risk of methane release from the oceans and whether destabilized hydrates make the continental slopes more unstable"

'via Blog this'

Saturn Storm "Almost Unbelievable"—Spawns Huge Temperature Spike, Giant Vortex

Saturn Storm "Almost Unbelievable"—Spawns Huge Temperature Spike, Giant Vortex:

 "The U.S. East Coast may be trembling in anticipation of "Frankenstorm," but Hurricane Sandy's spawn has nothing on a record-breaking storm on Saturn."

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bill McKibben Launches Campus Crusade for Climate: Scientific American

Bill McKibben Launches Campus Crusade for Climate: Scientific American:

"Activist Bill McKibben starts a climate road show in a bid to raise awareness about the need to address global warming now"

'via Blog this'

Solar Wind Creates Traces of Lunar Surface Water: Scientific American Podcast

Solar Wind Creates Traces of Lunar Surface Water: Scientific American Podcast:

 "A chemical analysis of lunar samples now points to the solar wind being behind the ultrathin dusting of water molecules first detected in 2009 from spacecraft measurements. John Matson reports"

'via Blog this'

Destination: Missing--Comet Once Targeted by NASA Mission Vanished: Scientific American

Destination: Missing--Comet Once Targeted by NASA Mission Vanished: Scientific American:

 "Little-known Comet 85P/Boethin, chosen as the destination for an extended mission of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft, disappeared sometime after 1986"

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Visualizing Vastness

STEVEN STROGATZ

In the funky, crunchy, slightly gritty college town where I live, we have a pedestrian mall called the Ithaca Commons. You can probably picture it: A gem store. A hemp shop. Lots of places to buy hand-made candles.

And a scale model of the solar system … five billion times smaller than the real thing.

Built in honor of Carl Sagan, the Cornell astronomer, author and science communicator, the Sagan Planet Walk offers lessons that reach far beyond astronomy. It’s a case study in visualizing vastness.

Admit it. You have no real feeling for the size of the solar system. That’s O.K. Nobody else does either. Even knowing the numbers doesn’t help much. If I tell you the Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter and 93,000,000 miles from the Sun, does that give you any sense of the distances involved? No, because the numbers are too big. Things that are so far removed from our daily experience — like quarks, and dinosaurs, and Kim Kardashian — are inherently hard to understand.

The designers of the Sagan Walk made the solar system accessible by shrinking it to a human scale. Each planet is displayed in its own monolith.

Leah Strogatz

As you stroll from one to another, you can’t help noticing that the first four planets are really close together. It takes a few seconds, a few tens of steps, to walk from the Sun to Mercury and then on to Venus, Earth and Mars. By contrast, Jupiter is a full two-minute walk down the block, just past Moosewood Restaurant, waiting for someone to stop by and admire it. The remaining planets are even lonelier, each marooned in its own part of town. The whole walk, from the Sun to Pluto, is about three-quarters of a mile long and takes about 15 minutes.

The planets themselves are scaled down too, in exact proportion. The tiniest ones, Mercury and Pluto, look like little grains of couscous. The Earth resembles a pea. The largest ones, Jupiter and Saturn, are the size of donut holes. The Sun is about 10 times wider still, the diameter of a serving plate.

The Sagan Walk is the ultimate in egocentric fantasies: it centers the solar system on you. And I don’t mean that figuratively; it’s literally true, in a certain numerical sense.

To see what I mean, let’s begin with the basics of handling large numbers. The key is to avoid them where possible; try to work with numbers close to 1 instead.

For example, you wouldn’t state your height in billions of nanometers. It’s not that it wouldn’t be correct; it just seems silly and it would be hard to work with, because people aren’t very good at comprehending numbers like a billion. The right scale for human height is meters, not nanometers.

Or think about currencies where even the most insignificant trinket costs millions of lira. It’s annoying and confusing. That’s because one lira has ceased to be the right scale for that currency. They should be using mega-lira, not lira (as Turkey did in 2005 with the introduction of the “New Turkish Lira,” defined to equal 1 million old liras).

Another helpful tactic is to express numbers in “scientific notation.” That way of writing them highlights their most essential features and shunts their minor details aside.

For example, take the number 1,234. Round it down to the nearest power of 10, which is 1,000. Then write 1,234 = 1.234 x 1,000. Count the zeros (in this case, 3); pop that number into an exponent to get the corresponding power of 10 (here, 103), and stick whatever is left over out in front (1.234). The result is 1,234 expressed in scientific notation: 1.234 x 103. Its “order of magnitude” is said to be 3, because that’s how many powers of 10 are in it.

Why bother? Because scientific notation teases out what’s important (the powers of 10) from what’s less important (the leftovers like 1.234, which are always less than 10, by definition, and in that sense close to 1). When you’re trying to make rough estimates, the powers of 10 are what matter. They give the lion’s share of the answer.

Now let’s apply these ideas to the solar system. What happens if we shrink all the pertinent distances and diameters by a factor of five billion, as the designers of the Sagan Walk did?

Consider the longest length scales, the distances from the Sun to the farthest planets. After the five-billion-fold reduction, those previously unfathomable distances shrink to being around a kilometer, which — in terms of all-important you — is roughly a thousand times longer than the one-meter scale of your body. That’s 10 x 10 x 10 times longer than you. Three powers of 10.

Next, look what happens to the shortest length scales, the diameters of the tiniest planets like Mercury and Pluto. They become millimeter-size, or about a thousand times shorter than you. Another three powers of 10, but in the opposite direction.

Which puts you right in middle. You are now the 1, the measure of all things.

The Sagan Walk is a remarkable achievement in the visualization of vastness. It succeeds because its designers chose the right reduction factor and because the six orders of magnitude in the solar system happen to be within our perceptual power to grasp all at once.

But for many other problems that scientists study, no single reduction or enlargement will suffice. A good strategy in such “multiscale” cases is to use a series of reductions and enlargements that progress smoothly from one to the next.

This was the approach taken by Charles and Ray Eames, the husband-and-wife design team who gave us the iconic short film “Powers of Ten.” They centered their view of the universe on a couple enjoying a lazy picnic in the park.

Instead of the single scale factor used in the Sagan Walk, “Powers of Ten” uses a continuous zoom — a visualization technique that seems commonplace today, but which blew the minds of its audience in 1968.

The movie zooms through 40 powers of 10, starting from the picnickers, then pans back to the largest scales of the known universe, and finally reverses direction in a dizzying descent down to the sub-nuclear scale of quarks. The genius of the movie is that as time ticks by linearly, like 1, 2, 3, 4, the field of view contracts or expands exponentially, changing tenfold at each step from 10 meters to 100 to 1,000 to 10,000. In effect, the counting takes place in the exponent — 101, 102, 103, 104 — and not in the number itself.

This style of thinking, this powers-of-10 mentality, is our best hope for making sense of the immensity of the natural world. What makes subjects like biology and climate science so hard is not just that they involve so many variables; it’s that the crucial phenomena in them occur over such a wide range of scales. Biologists need to contend with everything from nano-size DNA molecules on up to cells, organs, organisms and ecosystems. For climate scientists the relevant scales go from the molecular (the photochemistry of ozone) to the global (the fluid mechanics of the jet stream). Many of the great scientific puzzles of our time have this multiscale character.

A contentious example, especially in this election season, is inequality. The distribution of wealth in the United States spans at least 10 powers of 10, ranging from people whose net worth is measured in tens of billions of dollars, to those with barely a dollar to their names. This disparity dwarfs even the six powers of 10 in the solar system. As such, the distribution is extremely difficult to depict on a single graph, at least on the standard kinds of plots with linear axes, which is why you never see it displayed on one page.

Depending on your politics, you may think that wealth inequality is a problem to be solved, or irrelevant, or an encouraging sign of a free society. But whether you believe we need more inequality or less, I think we can all agree that it would be helpful to understand the actual distribution. Unfortunately its multiscale character confounds us.

This is clear from the work of Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely. In 2005 they surveyed a representative sample of more than 5,500 Americans — men and women, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, young and old — and asked them two questions: How much wealth inequality is there in America? And how much should there be, ideally?

Norton and Ariely found that people on both sides of the political spectrum grossly underestimated the extent of inequality. The typical respondent believed that the top 20 percent owned 59 percent of the nation’s wealth, much less than the 84 percent the top quintile actually owned (at the time of the survey). Respondents also thought the two quintiles at the bottom — the poorest 40 percent — owned 10 percent of the nation’s wealth, when the reality was that their two slices totaled 0.3 percent of the American pie, the two nearly invisible slivers in the chart.

Yet surprisingly, when asked to describe the ideal distribution they’d like to see, respondents of all ages, classes, genders and party affiliations agreed. They’d all prefer a distribution much less extreme than the status quo: the top quintile would hold about 32 percent of the wealth, while the poorest quintile would have over 10 percent.

It’s nice we can all agree about something for once, even if it happens to be a more equal distribution of wealth than exists in any country on Earth … and probably in our solar system.


NOTES

1. The Carl Sagan Planet Walk is truly awe-inspiring. Come visit us here in Ithaca, N.Y., and see for yourself. But if you can’t make the trip, this video will give you an impression of what it’s like. For more information, including pictures, maps and history, check out the Sagan Walk’s official Web page and this blog post by J.W. Ocker.

A new station was added to the Sagan Walk on Sep. 28, 2012. Representing Alpha Centauri — the nearest star to the sun — it is located at the Imiloa Astronomy Center on the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus. The Sagan Walk now measures 5,000 miles from end to end, making it the world’s largest exhibition.

For those unfamiliar with Carl Sagan, start by listening to his meditation on a photograph of Earth taken by the Voyager spacecraft as it looked back from Saturn, 4 billion miles away, in which our planet appears as a single pixel, a “pale blue dot.” His words will move you.

2. The federal budget is another important topic that bewilders most of us because of the gigantic numbers involved. In an illuminating blog post, the mathematician Terry Tao brings those numbers down to size by converting them to their household equivalents, using a conversion factor of 100 million to 3. Thus, when you hear about the government collecting or spending $100 million, think of it as $3 in family terms. Tao credits the idea for this rescaling to an observation made by the economist Greg Mankiw. In 2009, when President Obama called for a $100 million cut by federal agencies as a sign of fiscal discipline, Mankiw noted that this would be like a family with an annual spending of $100,000 and a budget shortfall of $34,000 deciding to cut $3, “approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks.”

3. The “Powers of Ten” Web site contains more information about this classic film, as well as interactive tools that allow you to zoom through the scales of the universe at your own pace. Also, the superb PBS documentary “Charles and Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter” offers a revealing portrait of the creative couple behind “Powers of Ten.”

4. Parents and children will find much to explore at this Web site about the basics of scale models, ratios and scale factors.

5. For the survey of what Americans think about wealth inequality, see M. I. Norton and D. Ariely, “Building a better America — one wealth quintile at a time,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2011), pp. 9–12, and Dan Ariely’s recent piece in The Atlantic. The wealth inequality data they used are available in a working paper by Edward N. Wolff. Summary statistics for the wealth distributions in other countries are tabulated here.


Thanks to Margaret Nelson for preparing the illustration, Leah Strogatz for the Jupiter photograph, and Dan Ariely, Joe Burns, Tom Gilovich, Paul Ginsparg, Mike Norton, Andy Ruina and Carole Schiffman for their comments and suggestions.

NYT

TED Talk by Professor Montgomery

Visualizing Vastness - NYTimes.com

Visualizing Vastness - NYTimes.com:

 "Built in honor of Carl Sagan, the Cornell astronomer, author and science communicator, the Sagan Planet Walk offers lessons that reach far beyond astronomy. It’s a case study in visualizing vastness."

'via Blog this'

Space Out: NASA Faces More Budget Cuts in 2013 | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network

Space Out: NASA Faces More Budget Cuts in 2013 | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network:

"No matter who is elected president of the United States on November 6, there are bound to be new cuts to next year’s federal budget. The question is whether they will be really really big or just sort of big. Congress can avoid the really, really big (and semi-random) cuts during its lame-duck session between the election and the New Year if it negotiates a path away from the so-called “fiscal cliff” that is anticipated in early January. That’s when certain automatic tax increases and spending cuts are scheduled to take place. But there is no doubt that, at the very least, plain old cuts in spending are on their way."

'via Blog this'

Watch Supersonic Skydive Live: Felix Baumgartner Set to Jump Sunday

Watch Supersonic Skydive Live: Felix Baumgartner Set to Jump Sunday:

 "Sixty-five years ago today Chuck Yeager piloted the Bell X-1 into history, becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Today Felix Baumgartner may do the same—minus the plane."

'via Blog this'

Friday, October 12, 2012

Gabriele Ponti : An AGN torus in our backyard!

I posted an article by Ponti et al. below The question is very interesting. Was there a time when the huge black hole in the center of the Galaxy was more active?

Very likely the answer is yes.

Rashid Sunyaev studies here the problem of matter inflow into black holes.

It is scary!

After hours of computation with professor Jeremiah Ostriker, and Jason Li of Princeton, they conclude that this flow is almost chaotic. It is hard to get a straight answer. General Relativity is a non-linear mathematical theory, just like the weather equations, that Edward Lorenz studied many years ago, not very far from Princeton, at MIT.

So, is the Massive Black Hole in the center, asleep?

Very likely yes.

When will it wake up?

It seems to me, that it is almost a coin toss. What about tomorrow? What about December 21, 2012?

I do not know.

[1210.3034] Traces of past activity in the Galactic Centre

[1210.3034] Traces of past activity in the Galactic Centre:

"The Milky Way centre hosts a supermassive Black Hole (BH) with a mass of ~4*10^6 M_Sun. Sgr A*, its electromagnetic counterpart, currently appears as an extremely weak source with a luminosity L~10^-9 L_Edd. The lowest known Eddington ratio BH. However, it was not always so; traces of "glorious" active periods can be found in the surrounding medium. We review here our current view of the X-ray emission from the Galactic Center (GC) and its environment, and the expected signatures (e.g. X-ray reflection) of a past flare. We discuss the history of Sgr A*'s past activity and its impact on the surrounding medium. The structure of the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ) has not changed significantly since the last active phase of Sgr A*. This relic torus provides us with the opportunity to image the structure of an AGN torus in exquisite detail."

'via Blog this'

Earth's Strongest, Most Massive Storm Ever: Scientific American

Earth's Strongest, Most Massive Storm Ever: Scientific American:

"On October 12, 1979, Typhoon Tip generated peak wind speeds of 300 kph and could stretch from Dallas to New York City"

'via Blog this'

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spiral Shell Sheds Light on Red Giant Star's Recent Convulsive History: Scientific American Gallery

Spiral Shell Sheds Light on Red Giant Star's Recent Convulsive History: Scientific American Gallery:

"As stars age, they often shed their skins, so to speak, casting off expansive shells of dust and gas into interstellar space. A new look at the shell surrounding a type of aging star called a red giant shows that the star's ejected husk carries in its structure the imprint of its formation and subsequent evolution."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Hot, Dry Weather Batters Maize Crops across Eastern Europe: Scientific American

Hot, Dry Weather Batters Maize Crops across Eastern Europe: Scientific American:

"Sizzling temperatures and lack of rains have scorched maize or corn crops across eastern Europe, further reducing global supplies already hit after the worst drought in the United States in 50 years."

'via Blog this'

Friday, October 05, 2012

“Once in a Civilization” Comet to Zip past Earth Next Year | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network

“Once in a Civilization” Comet to Zip past Earth Next Year | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network:

"As it flares out of the distant Oort Cloud, the newly discovered comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) appears to be heading on a trajectory that could make for one of the most spectacular night-sky events in living memory. Why is this comet expected to be so unique? Two reasons:"

'via Blog this'

Speed of Universe's Expansion Measured Better Than Ever: Scientific American

Speed of Universe's Expansion Measured Better Than Ever: Scientific American:

 "The newest measurements, courtesy of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, come from infrared observations of distant variable stars"

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

How Do People Learn?

At the end of the day, all the teaching and learning tools, end up with knowledge correctly learned, incorrectly learned, or completely forgotten. I believe that relevancy plays a big part in this process. My children were home-schooled part of their lives. Maybe their social development was affected. It didn't help that one of them was already thirteen, when we came from Mexico!

I am very proud of both my children, and I myself have some trouble relating to people. I basically keep to myself, learning and learning all the time. I am even taking an Artificial Intelligence (AI) class at edX.org

How do we learn?

I am impressed with the AI class from UCBerkeley. Besides the video and audio provided, there  are transcripts appearing at the same time. Then there are quizzes, and there is a midterm coming.

I am teaching an Introduction to Astronomy class:[website].I am using Pearson's, Mastering Astronomy website also.

As I see it, there is no substitute, so far, to asking a student: Why did you answer this way?

I will start today, with that old Platonic way.

Monday, October 01, 2012

With Limited Budgets, Pursuing Science Smartly - NYTimes.com

With Limited Budgets, Pursuing Science Smartly - NYTimes.com:

 "With the first presidential debate coming up on Wednesday, it is striking — if not surprising — how bland and predictable the candidates have been in discussing America’s role in space."

'via Blog this'

Barry Commoner Dies at 95 - NYTimes.com

Barry Commoner Dies at 95 - NYTimes.com:

"Barry Commoner, a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers, died Sunday in Manhattan. He was 95 and lived in Brooklyn Heights."

'via Blog this'

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