Saturday, July 6, 2013

Make Way for the 'Super-Earths!'

They're in there somewhere around the center of the picture....

Lest you think, dear readers, that the summer doldrums would stop the march of science; and thus the march of science news with which we fill ...

This Saturday in Science...

...fear not, unless of course you're afraid of alien life forms....

The habitable zone of a nearby star is filled to the brim with planets that could support alien life, scientists announced today on June 25.

According to this story posted in Yahoo News:
An international team of scientists found three potentially habitable planets around the star Gliese 667C, a star 22 light-years from Earth that is orbited by at least six planets, and possibly as many as seven, researchers said. The three planet contenders for alien life are in the star's "habitable zone" — the temperature region around the star where liquid water could exist. Gliese 667C is part of a three-star system, so the planets could see three suns in their daytime skies.
The three potentially rocky planets in Gliese 667C's habitable zone are known as super-Earths — exoplanets that are less massive than Neptune but more massive than Earth. Their orbits make them possible candidates for hosting life, officials from the European Southern Observatory said in a statement.
Photo Stolen Shamelessly from The New York Times
How cool is this? Turanor Planetsolar, a 100-foot catamaran with solar panels covering the flat top deck, made a stop in New York City as it followed the Gulf Stream.

Meanwhile, back here on earth, a vehicle that makes use of our old familiar sun is going to be put to work doing research on our old familiar Earth.

We hear about it from this June 24 article in the venerable New York Times:
Last year, after it became the first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe, the Turanor Planetsolar could have taken its 5,500 square feet of photovoltaic cells and eight tons of lithium-ion batteries and sailed off into the sunset.
Instead it is becoming a scientific research ship, at least for the summer. The boat, a 100-foot, $17 million catamaran that was dreamed up by a Swiss eco-adventurer and bankrolled by a German businessman, will cruise the Gulf Stream studying the role of atmospheric aerosols and phytoplankton in regulating climate, under the direction of Martin Beniston, a climatologist at the University of Geneva.
In some ways the boat is suited to research. Being completely powered by the sun — the high-efficiency solar cells charge the batteries that power electric motors connected to the craft’s twin propellers — it produces no emissions of carbon dioxide or other gases that could contaminate air samples. And the boat has no problem going slowly, if necessary, as it samples the water — average speed is a sluggish five knots.
And finally, in the category of well, do we have global warming or don't we? Is weather getting worse because of industrial pollution or despite it?

It's getting hard to keep track.

Check out this June 24 Times article by Justin Gillis in which he writes:
To the ever-growing list of ways humanity seems to have altered the earth, add another candidate: Air pollution may have had a major soothing influence on storm cycles in the North Atlantic.
Well, which is it? Pollution causes ocean warming;
or ocean cooling?
That is the finding of a paper published this week, suggesting that industrial pollution from North America and Europe through much of the 20th century may have altered clouds in ways that cooled the ocean surface. That, in turn, may have suppressed storms, and particularly major hurricanes, below the level that would have existed in a purely natural environment.
If the authors are right, the upturn in storms over the last couple of decades may be no accident. It could, instead, be at least partly a consequence of the clean air acts that have reduced pollution around the North Atlantic basin, thus returning the storm cycles to their more natural state....
As many people will recall, the North Atlantic was quiescent in the 1970s and 1980s, especially for major hurricanes, creating a false sense of security and encouraging coastal development. But starting in the 1990s, storminess increased sharply, and the new study says that may be because clean air laws had started to take effect.....
The main effect on storm patterns would have come from particles of sulfur dioxide that entered the air from the combustion of sulfur-laden fuels like coal and diesel. Water can condense on these particles, and a surfeit of them in the air can change the properties of clouds, causing them to be made up of finer droplets.
To which the scienctifically sophisticated among the Digital Notebook staff say: "what the what?"

Maybe the solar-powered research vessel can finally answer this.....

No comments:

Post a Comment