SpaceX launches two men up above us a bit

I’ve just been watching the launch of the SpaceX/NASA manned rocket that is the first time people have been launched into Earth orbit from the US since the shuttle programme ended in 2011.

After a few minutes the rocket, minor the largest stage that had successfully landed off the coast of Ireland, was orbiting Earth at 200 km and travelling at 27,000 kilometres an hour.

The capsule is now heading on a 19 hour trip to the Space Station.

“This is a historical day”. “A day for the history books”. “America is back”.

This is a big achievement. Any successful launch of people into Earth orbit is a big achievement.

But it shows how much rocket and expense is required to get a couple of people floating around our own planet. There are plans to get back to the moon again by 2024. There is talk of getting manned missions to Mars some time in the future.

And this is fifty years on from the original moon missions.

I happened to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time a couple of nights ago. That was from the 60s, before the first successful moon missions. It had large moon bases, and huge spacecraft travelling to Jupiter in 2001. But we are still nowhere near this.

It’s a big deal getting a small capsule just up above us a bit. They (US and Russia) gradually built up the Space station, but that’s only in Earth orbit.

It takes about 3 days to travel to the moon.

It takes 6-8 months to travel to Mars.

Fifty, seventy years after Mount Everest was first climbed there are lines of people queuing up to get to the top of the mountain each year,

The US had their original space flight missions, followed fairly quickly by their Apollo moon missions that began in 1961, made it with men to the moon in July 1969, and then continued with five more successful missions until 1972.

The Space Shuttle programme began in 1982 and continued until 2011, but that was only for earth orbit missions and the Space Station.

So this new phase, fifty years after the moon landing, is just a new beginning of significant but relatively modest space flight achievement.

Minor space flight seems to be almost at the limits of our technology and human ability. What has been done is marvellous, but by today’s standards quite modest.

Space flight science looks like mostly remaining fiction.

Could be heading towards a Grand Solar Minimum but not an ice age

The last relatively low energy 11 year solar cycle, according to some scientists, suggests the planet could be heading for a Grand Solar Minimum. The last time this happened over three hundred years ago Earth experienced the Little Ice Age, but even if we do experience a Grand Solar Minimum it ios thought that global warming will more than compensate, so no ice age is expected.

NASA Climate Blog: There Is No Impending ‘Mini Ice Age’

There is no impending “ice age” or “mini ice age” to be caused by an expected reduction in the Sun’s energy output in the next several decades.

Through its lifetime, the Sun naturally goes through changes in energy output. Some of these occur over a regular 11-year period of peak (many sunspots) and low activity (fewer sunspots), which are quite predictable.

temperature vs solar activity

The above graph compares global surface temperature changes (red line) and the Sun’s energy that Earth receives (yellow line) in watts (units of energy) per square meter since 1880. The lighter/thinner lines show the yearly levels while the heavier/thicker lines show the 11-year average trends.

But every so often, the Sun becomes quieter, experiencing much fewer sunspots and giving off less energy. This is called a “Grand Solar Minimum,” and the last time this happened, it coincided with a period called the “Little Ice Age” (a period of extremely low solar activity from approximately AD 1650 to 1715 in the Northern Hemisphere, when a combination of cooling from volcanic aerosols and low solar activity produced lower surface temperatures).

Some scientists have suggested that the relatively small magnitude of the last solar cycle (SC 24) presages a new Grand Solar Minimum in the next few decades.

grand solar minimum on timeline

In terms of climate forcing – a factor that could push the climate in a particular direction – solar scientists estimate it would be about -0.1 W/m2, the same impact of about three years of current carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration growth.

Thus, a new Grand Solar Minimum would only serve to offset a few years of warming caused by human activities.

What does this mean? The warming caused by the greenhouse gas emissions from the human burning of fossil fuels is six times greater than the possible decades-long cooling from a prolonged Grand Solar Minimum.

Even if a Grand Solar Minimum were to last a century, global temperatures would continue to warm. Because more factors than just variations in the Sun’s output change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of those today being the warming coming from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

So it would only impact slightly on the current rate of warming.

We’ve just had five consecutive mornings of light frosts here in Dunedin, which is a bit unusual compared to the last few years where winters have been milder and frosts have been uncommon even in June/July, but this has nothing to do with the grand scheme of things, it’s just a minor variation in the current living level.

 

The past five years have been the warmest on record

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA say that 2018 was 4th hottest year on record for the globe, just behind 2016 (warmest), 2015 (second warmest) and 2017 (third warmest). A super optimist might claim that there is a slight cooling trend since 2016, but this suggests that predictions of global warming had some credence.

20 of the last 22 years have been the warmest on record.

In separate analyses of global temperatures, scientists from NASA, the United Kingdom Met Office and the World Meteorological Organizationoffsite link also reached the same heat ranking.

And other news recently provide examples of other climate concerns.

Stuff: ‘Dangerous’ Antarctic glacier has massive hole, scientists warn

A large cavity has formed under what has been described as one of the world’s most dangerous glaciers, and could contribute to a significant bump in global sea levels, said Nasa scientists.

A study led by the agency revealed a cavity about two-thirds the area of Manhattan and roughly 304 metres tall is growing under Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

The cavity is large enough to have contained 14 billion tons of ice, most of which has melted within the last three years, say researchers.

The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

Thwaites has been described as one of the world’s most dangerous glaciers because its demise could lead to rapid changes in global sea levels.

JPL said the glacier, about the size of Florida, holds enough ice to raise ocean levels another 60 centimetres if it completely melts.

It also backstops other glaciers capable to raising sea levels another 2.4m.

Until recently Antarctica was thought to be bucking warming trends, but new research appears to be uncovering more melt than had been realised.

Reuters:  Norway’s Arctic islands at risk of ‘devastating’ warming: report

Icy Arctic islands north of Norway are warming faster than almost anywhere on Earth and more avalanches, rain and mud may cause “devastating” changes by 2100, a Norwegian report said on Monday.

Icy Arctic islands north of Norway are warming faster than almost anywhere on Earth and more avalanches, rain and mud may cause “devastating” changes by 2100, a Norwegian report said on Monday.

Many other parts of the Arctic, especially its islands, are also warming far quicker than the world average as the retreat of snow and sea ice exposes darker water and ground that soaks up ever more of the sun’s heat.

LiveScience: The Greenland Ice Sheet Is Melting at Astonishing Rate

Last week, a cauldron of concerning news articles made two things very clear: The ocean is warming and Antarctica’s ice is melting.

Now, a new study shows how much global warming is pounding another area: Greenland.

Greenland’s ice sheet is not only melting, but it’s melting faster than ever because the area has become more sensitive to natural climate fluctuations, particularly an atmospheric cycle, a group of scientists reported today (Jan. 21) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found that the ice is vanishing four times faster than it was in 2003 — and a good chunk of that acceleration is happening in southwest Greenland.

RNZ:  2018 was NZ’s warmest year on record – climate scientist

Veteran climate scientist Jim Salinger has calculated the mean annual land surface temperature in 2018 was 13.5 degrees Celsius, which was 0.85C above the 1981-2010 average.

This was “a smidgeon” hotter than the previous warmest year on record, 2016, which was 0.84C above normal.

Ultima Thule (Kuiper Belt) photographed by New Horizons

The New Horizons spacecraft that was launched on 19 January 2006 and passed Pluto on 14 July 2015 continued travelling into the Kuiper Belt, and has just photographed an object named Ultima Thule (‘beyond the known world’).

This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) by the New Horizons spacecraft.
Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

RNZ – NASA’s New Horizons: ‘Snowman’ shape of distant Ultima Thule revealed

A new picture returned from US space agency NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the little world to be two objects joined together – to give a look like a “snowman”.

The US probe’s images acquired as it approached Ultima hinted at the possibility of a double body, but the first detailed picture confirms it.

New Horizons encountered Ultima 6.5 billion km from Earth.

The event set a record for the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object. The previous mark was also set by New Horizons when it flew past the dwarf planet Pluto in 2015.

But Ultima is a further 1.5 billion km further out.

Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator from NASA’s Ames Research Center, said the pair would have come together at very low speed, at maybe 2-3km/h. He joked that if they were cars, “you probably wouldn’t fill out the insurance form.

Ultima orbits the Sun in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt.

There are hundreds of thousands of Kuiper members like Ultima, and their frigid state almost certainly holds clues to how all planetary bodies came into being some 4.6 billion years ago.

About New Horizons and Ultima Thule:

The New Horizons team used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for the next Kuiper Belt object to fly by after Pluto. Using observations made with Hubble on June 26, 2014, the science team discovered an object that New Horizons could reach with its available fuel. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968, and based on public votes, nicknamed “Ultima Thule”, which means “beyond the known world”.

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune. In the early morning of January 1st 2019 Eastern Time, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Ultima Thule at a distance of 3500 km (2200 miles). At this time, Ultima Thule will be at a distance of almost 6.5 billion km (4 billion miles) from the Sun, making this the most distant planetary flyby that has yet been attempted, and the first time that a Solar System object of this type has been seen close-up.

Ultima Thule measures approximately 30 km in diameter, and is irregularly shaped. In July 2017, Ultima Thule passed in front of a star as seen from Earth (a stellar occultation), allowing astronomers to determine that its shape is most likely a contact binary (two bodies that are touching) or a close binary system (two objects that are orbiting each other). An artist’s impression of Ultima Thule as a contact binary is shown in the accompanying picture.

We will only know what Ultima Thule’s surface looks like once New Horizons has sent back the first pictures after it has flown by, although based on observations of similar-sized Solar System objects, it will almost certainly display impact craters. The lighting environment at its surface is very dim, as it receives only about 0.05% of the light from the Sun that Earth does. We do know that Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years. The flyby will also reveal whether it has any moons, or even a ring system. Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classicals”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane, and which have not been perturbed since their formation perhaps 4.6 billion years ago. Ultima Thule will therefore be the most primitive planetary object yet explored, and will reveal to us what conditions were like in this distant part of the Solar System as it condensed from the solar nebula.

 

 

Contrasting climate change claims

Two very contrasting articles via real Politics on climate change – one claiming “No ice has been lost by Greenland…” and the other “the Greenland ice sheet is melting at its fastest rate in at least 400 years”.

Conrad Black at National Post – Thirty years of climate hysterics being proven wrong over and over again

It is 30 years this past week that Dr. James Hansen, then well into the first of more than three decades as head of the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)-Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified to a U.S. Senate committee that the then-current heat wave in Washington was caused by the relationship between “the greenhouse effect and observed warming.” This was the starting gun of a mighty debate about the existence, cause and consequences of global warming.

In his testimony, Hansen described three possible courses for the world’s climate, depending on public policy.

It is the third result that has occurred: unchanged world temperatures since 2000, apart from 2015-2016; then the temperature rose slightly after a heavy El Nino, and then receded again although world carbon emissions have increased moderately.

He gives no evidence of that claim. I’m sure someone else somewhere is saying something similar, but this is from NASA (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) in Global Temperature:

Parallel predictions were made by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which forecast temperature increases twice as great as occurred in the period up to 2000, with accelerating increases in the years since, when the temperature has been flat (with the exception of the one year mentioned). Hansen also predicted exceptional warming in the Southeast and Midwest of the United States, which has not occurred either. As his predictions were battered and defied by the facts,

Hansen reinforced his expressions of ecological gloom and in 2007 predicted that all Greenland’s ice would melt and that ocean levels would rise by seven metres within 100 years.

I can’t find evidence of those claims by Hansen. In Scientific reticence and sea level rise (2007) heb talks only of estimates of possible scenarios based on the known science in 2007. he does say “The nonlinearity of the ice sheet problem makes it impossible to accurately predict the sea level change on a specific date. However, as a physicist, I find it almost
inconceivable that BAU climate change would not yield a sea level change of the order of meters on the century timescale”.

Black:

We have only had 11 years, but no ice has been lost by Greenland, other than what melts every summer and then forms again, and water levels have not moved appreciably.

In contrast from Scientific American: Greenland Is Melting Faster Than at Any Time in the Last 400 Years

study published this week in Geophysical Research Letters finds that melt rates in western Greenland have been accelerating for the last few decades. Melting is now nearly double what it was at the end of the 19th century, the research suggests. And the scientists say a significant increase in summertime temperatures—to the tune of about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1870s—is mainly to blame.

Future warming may only continue to enhance the melting, the researchers warn—a major concern when it comes to future sea-level rise.

The researchers used models informed with historical climate data to investigate some of the climatic factors influencing melt rates from one year to the next over the last century. Fluctuations in ocean temperatures and certain atmospheric circulation patterns were shown to have a major influence on year-to-year variations in melt rates since the 1870s.

That’s important to note, because these oceanic and atmospheric patterns may change under the influence of future climate change. Scientists are still debating how they may be affected, but the new findings suggest that a better understanding will be critical to making accurate short-term predictions about melting and sea-level rise.

The need for ongoing scientific research is obviously important. And most of the current science (as opposed to opinion of people like Black) suggests a growing problem with the effects of climate change. The biggest uncertainty is by how much and over what time period.

I got sidetracked addressing some of Black’s claims. The second article from RealClear: Clmate Change Is Our Most Critical National-Security Challenge

Progressive American politicians must embrace the necessity of dramatic action on climate change as a touchstone. So far, Senator Bernie Sanders has done it the most persuasively, campaigning on addressing climate change, health care, racial justice, and economic inequality as his unvaried quartet of issues, invoked in every speech and backed up with serious legislation that shows a willingness to move with real speed. Other party leaders will back him on one bill or another, and scientists and engineers are now runningfor office.

Seriousness on climate change needs to be a qualification, not an afterthought, for anyone who wants to run for president. Because it’s not an environmental issue; it’s the most crucial security question that humans have ever faced.

There’s a major problem with this – Sanders didn’t even make the presidential election, Trump won and is taking the US into the climate change dark ages, and progressive politics in the US is in disarray.

Evidence of possible life on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence that adds weight to the possibility there has been life on Mars (in the distant past).

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill in

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the site from which it reached down
to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

Mars isn’t an easy place to escape to if things turn pear shaped on Earth, but if life is proven to have survived there in the past it would add weight to the lack of uniqueness of life on Earth.

Tour of the Moon

NASA has released a video tour of the Moon.

Take a virtual tour of the Moon in all-new 4K resolution, thanks to data provided by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain.

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4619 Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

Music Provided By Killer Tracks: “Never Looking Back” – Frederick Wiedmann. “Flying over Turmoil” – Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman.

More about Jupiter revealed

The Juno spacecraft has gathered more science that gives insights into the turbulence of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

Data collected by NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter indicate that the atmospheric winds of the gas-giant planet run deep into its atmosphere and last longer than similar atmospheric processes found here on Earth. The findings will improve understanding of Jupiter’s interior structure, core mass and, eventually, its origin.

Other Juno science results released today include that the massive cyclones that surround Jupiter’s north and south poles are enduring atmospheric features and unlike anything else encountered in our solar system. The findings are part of a four-article collection on Juno science results being published in the March 8 edition of the journal Nature.

“These astonishing science results are yet another example of Jupiter’s curve balls, and a testimony to the value of exploring the unknown from a new perspective with next-generation instruments.  Juno’s unique orbit and evolutionary high-precision radio science and infrared technologies enabled these paradigm-shifting discoveries,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter.”

The depth to which the roots of Jupiter’s famous zones and belts extend has been a mystery for decades. Gravity measurements collected by Juno during its close flybys of the planet have now provided an answer.

I don’t think it’s surprising Jupiter’s atmosphere acts differently to Earth’s, the planets are quite different.

Panorama of Mars

NASA have put together a cool panorama of Mars from the rover Curiosity, that has been there rolling around trhere for five years.

Washington Post:

After nearly 2,000 Martian days — after crossing an ancient lake bed and weaving past sand dunes on a planet of bluetinged sunsets and small, lumpy moons — the Mars rover Curiosity turned around to look back on its years-long journey.

This week, NASA released a composite photo of what Curiosity saw in October, and if the rover could breathe, it might gasp.

In one image was its whole story: from the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, where it sat holding its camera, to the spot in the crater floor 11 miles distant, where it had touched down five years earlier to great celebration on Earth.

Curiosity has brought Mars to life for the public. The soil data it’s collected suggest Mars was once a beautiful planet of rivers and lakes. But the rover’s many postcards of eclipses, dust devils and shimmering sands showed the world it’s a beautiful place, even now.

There’s a lot of details here Curiosity’s five-year journey across Mars — in one stunning photo.

Another 8 planet solar system

NASA have now discovered an eighth planet orbiting the Kepler-9 sun – or at least they were 2,545 light-years ago, we can only look back into history.

NASA: Artificial Intelligence, NASA Data Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star

The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets.

The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler – the minuscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star. Inspired by the way neurons connect in the human brain, this artificial “neural network” sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously-missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90, in the constellation Draco.

While machine learning has previously been used in searches of the Kepler database, this research demonstrates that neural networks are a promising tool in finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.

Other planetary systems probably hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.

“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.

I don’t know how accurate this planet detection is – and of course there could be more planets not yet detected there.

A lot closer to earth: Is ‘Oumuamua an alien spacecraft? First scans show no signs of technology

The first scans for alien technology aboard a mysterious object that is barreling through the solar system have found no evidence it is the work of an intelligent civilisation.

The cigar-shaped object was spotted hurtling through the solar system in Octoberand while astronomers suspected it was an interstellar asteroid, its curious shape led them to propose sweeping it for radio signals in case it happened to be an alien craft.

While the long, slender object may have been well suited to flying through clouds of interstellar gas at breakneck speed, as some researchers noted, the observation that the body was tumbling through space suggests any aerodynamic advantage was at best minimal.

Scientists on the Breakthrough Listen project, funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, used the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia to eavesdrop on the 400m-long body named ‘Oumuamua, from the Hawaiian word for “messenger” or “scout”. The body is twice as far from Earth as the sun, but the telescope is so sensitive it could detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone.

But on Thursday, the astronomers declared that the first observations across four bands of the radio spectrum had found no evidence that ‘Oumuamua is anything other than a long lump of space rock. Scientists on the project have released the data from the observations so anyone can study the information.

I suppose until it’s proven that it isn’t aliens then it theoretically could be, but I wonder why there was speculation this rock could have been anything different.