Tag Archives: atmosphere

Our carbon sinks are absorbing twice as much carbon dioxide as they used to

The term ‘carbon sink’ is becoming more common as we all gain the scientific education needed to deal with climate change and global warming.

According to Wikipedia, carbon sinks can be both natural and artificial. Both involve the process of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is called carbon sequestration.

The main natural carbon sinks are the oceans and plants, and with our planet covered in so much water, the oceans are the biggest sinks on Earth. The main artificial ones are landfills and the various carbon capture projects.

In those countries that follow the Kyoto Protocol, the use of artificial carbon sinks can serve as a way to offset other carbon use.

Of course, as we are pumping more carbon into the atmosphere our natural carbon sinks are ingesting more carbon dioxide:

Nature has her own way of dealing with excess carbon dioxide. When human activities spew CO2 into the atmosphere, plants absorb more of it than usual, leading to profuse growth. The ocean, too, swallows more than it otherwise would. Many scientists fret that these so-called carbon sinks risk getting clogged up. Some even suggest that this has already started happening. - The Economist

Some even estimate that the amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans and plants has doubled. Nobody knows what this means, maybe it can continue and alleviate some of our carbon problems, or there could be a backlash effect.

For more on this, check out The Economist article, That Sinking Feeling.

 

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The best video NASA has ever produced – ’7 minutes of terror’ – landing a robot on Mars

 

On Aug. 5 or Aug. 6, depending on which part of the country you’re in, the Curiosity spacecraft careening toward Mars will hit the Red Planet’s atmosphere, deploy a supersonic parachute and either land safely on the planet’s surface or perish. It’s dramatic stuff, and NASA has produced this Hollywood-style YouTube video, complete with animation and suspenseful music, to preview the landing, evoke that drama and put viewers on the edge of their seats.

As engineers explain, it will take seven minutes for Curiosity to travel from the edge of Mars’ atmosphere to the surface, going from a speed of 13,000 mph to zero. “If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over,” engineer Tom Rivellini says.

Because Mars is so far away, it actually takes 14 minutes for the spacecraft’s signal to reach Earth. So by the time we learn the spacecraft has hit the top of Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity will have either have survived the landing or perished for a full seven minutes.

 

Source: Skye - 7 Minutes of Terror: NASA’s Dramatic Mars-Landing Preview

The era of micro-spacecraft is here – ultra small satellites are everywhere

There is big news on the small satellite front. From super-secret agencies to the U.S. military, academia, private firms, world space agencies, and NASA, ultra-small satellites are the big thing.

In sizing up “smallsats,” there are a range of classifications in the less-than-500- kilogram department, be they minisatellites, microsatellites, nanosatellites, picosatellites, palm-size CubeSats, even the diminutive Femto satellite, weighing in at less than 100 grams.

Cornell University has begun to delve into a postage stamp-size “satellite on a chip” design, called Sprite, envisioning a swarm of these tiny probes exploring planetary atmospheres for organic compounds.

“The knowledge of how to make and use smallsats has passed the tipping point,” Matt Bille told SPACE.com. “It exists worldwide and has fostered a global generation of satellite builders and engineers. It used to be only a few organizations could build a satellite. Now, a smart teenager with a CubeSat kit and a soldering iron is a space agency. We’ve only begun to grasp the implications of that.”

“The age of microspacecraft is on solid ground now.”

 

Source: Space.com - Small Satellites Prompt Big Ideas for Next 25 Years

 

 

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World scientists – we can’t raise the temperature by more than two degrees Celsius

The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius.

Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.)

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees.

We’re not getting any free lunch from the world’s economies, either. With only a single year’s lull in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis, we’ve continued to pour record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, year after year. In late May, the International Energy Agency published its latest figures – CO2 emissions last year rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before.

  • America had a warm winter and converted more coal-fired power plants to natural gas, so its emissions fell slightly
  • China kept booming, so its carbon output (which recently surpassed the U.S.) rose 9.3 percent
  • Japanese shut down their fleet of nukes post-Fukushima, so their emissions edged up 2.4 percent.

 

Keep reading: Rolling Stone - Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

 

 

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Listen to the soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises – free online!

As part of our countdown to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, we have a very special treat for you today. Below you can listen to the film’s Hans Zimmer soundtrack in its entirety, giving you a taste of the atmosphere and action you’re in for come July 20.

Listen to The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack on Empire Online

Zimmer has, of course, worked on all three of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films, having shared composition duties on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with James Newton Howard. This time, however, he’s flying solo.

This soundtrack is released by Sony Classical on July 16, and will be available from Amazon and iTunes for your listening-in-posterity pleasure. The Dark Knight Rises hits cinemas on July 20.

 

Source: Empire – The Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack!

 

 

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How the astronauts on the International Space Station get back to our planet

This Sunday (July 1, 2012), three members of the International Space Station crew will return to Earth on board a Kazakhstan-bound Soyuz craft, after over six months in orbit. Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, two of the returning astronauts, and Joe Acaba, who arrived at the station in May, discuss life on board ISS, the visit of the Dragon capsule, and current activities in space.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Just another day at SCIENCE FRIDAY, calling space.

Station, this is National Public Radio. How do you hear me?

DON PETTIT: NPR, we hear you loud and clear.

***

LICHTMAN: Don Pettit, walk us through how you’ll get back to our planet this weekend.

PETTIT: We will get in our Soyuz spacecraft and under the command of Oleg Kononenko, and Andre Kuipers will be flight engineer one or board engineer one, and I’m board engineer two. And we work together to get this spacecraft back home, starting off with undocking.

We start off, we get inside, the close the hatch, we have to do a leak check, make sure the hatches don’t leak. And then we strap in and undock, and then we do a de-orbit burn. And then as we hit the atmosphere, the spacecraft separates so that only the descent module comes through the atmosphere in one piece.

And then our parachute comes out, and we go thump, roll, roll on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Read, or listen, to the full interviewAstronauts Prepare For Departure

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MESSENGER sends first data back to Earth – uncovers ice on Mercury

For several years scientists have been begging to test their theories about Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. You see, the radar signals come back showing ice exists on the planet, but how could ice exist on a planet so incredibly hot?

NASA sent the spacecraft MESSENGER to orbit the planet and figure the mystery out (among other things). It turns out that ice exists at the planet north and south poles and possibly underneath some “dirt-shielding”.

All of this was uncovered by Professor David Paige, who has previous experience with Mars and the Moon, as he explains in his own words:

 

“I was able to use the Mercury laser altimeter in conjunction with a three-dimensional ray-tracing thermal model that I built to study ice on the moon, Paige said. “Using these models, I calculated the average temperature on the surface of the planet and concluded that the surface temperatures were too warm to permit the long-term stability of ice. The only possibility was some sort of thin layer of cover that allowed the ice to survive.”

This thin, dark layer is called a regolith and is probably made of organic substances like the Earth’s soil, rich in hydrocarbon compounds that may have come from the comets and meteorites that struck the planet over time. The comets and meteorites may have also contributed the water that seeped under the soil cover to form the icy patches.

***

MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) is the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. Its goal is to collect better data about the composition and atmosphere of the planet, and it just completed its first year of information gathering.

***

While the mix of water and organic compounds on another planet may raise the possibility of extraterrestrial life for some scientists, this is not what excites Paige. For him, the discovery of ice on Mercury is the triumph of science.

“We’re getting a good agreement between models and observations,” Paige said. “What we thought was true is true. The most exciting part of this? We may not know lot of things, but on Mercury we have things under control.”

via UCLA Today

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The stars as viewed from the International Space Station

Multitudinous stars but what is really awesome are the shots or Earth. The atmosphere glows faintly while the surface is lined with an array of lights, lightning storms, and mountains.

Makes me feel like we are an advanced civilization, even a planet in a Star Wars movie (that’s Coruscant for you geeks).

Timelapse videos depicting the stars from low earth orbit, as viewed from the International Space Station. Images edited using Adobe Lightroom with some cropping to make the stars the focal point of each shot, and with manipulation of the contrast to bring out the stars a bit more.

The video plays best if you let it load a bit first.

Via interesting, video at Vimeo

NASA's latest Mars probe, Curiosity, a nuclear robot with science fiction abilities

Tomorrow morning NASA will launch a Mars Probe, MSL Curiosity, into space for an eight month space journey and then a one year trek across the surface of the planet.

A brief description of the probe:

A new robotic mission to Mars, carrying 10 highly sophisticated instruments to seek the basic chemicals of life in the planet’s ancient rocks, is standing on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, ready to lift off Saturday morning aboard an Atlas V rocket on a 350 million-mile journey.

The six-wheeled rover named Curiosity is headed for the flanks of a Martian mountain that exists inside a crater where layers of sedimentary rock may hold evidence of what the planet was like a billion or more years ago: warmer, probably; wetter, most probably; and an abode for living organisms – just maybe.

Curiosity’s tools will drill into the mountain’s layered rocks and zap them with a laser so spectrometers can analyze the powdery particles to determine their composition.

Via SFGate

There’s more to the story than lasers and spectral analysis, including a return to nuclear powered robots, this one has a core of plutonium. Not to mention that Curiosity looks like Johnny Five’s bigger, geekier older brother, but that’s not what fascinates me.

It’s the science fiction that does. Two key elements of this mission remind me directly of Star Wars. The first is the Sky Crane that uses rocket thrusters to lower the robot to the surface of Mars.

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NASA’s latest Mars probe, Curiosity, a nuclear robot with science fiction abilities

Tomorrow morning NASA will launch a Mars Probe, MSL Curiosity, into space for an eight month space journey and then a one year trek across the surface of the planet.

A brief description of the probe:

A new robotic mission to Mars, carrying 10 highly sophisticated instruments to seek the basic chemicals of life in the planet’s ancient rocks, is standing on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, ready to lift off Saturday morning aboard an Atlas V rocket on a 350 million-mile journey.

The six-wheeled rover named Curiosity is headed for the flanks of a Martian mountain that exists inside a crater where layers of sedimentary rock may hold evidence of what the planet was like a billion or more years ago: warmer, probably; wetter, most probably; and an abode for living organisms – just maybe.

Curiosity’s tools will drill into the mountain’s layered rocks and zap them with a laser so spectrometers can analyze the powdery particles to determine their composition.

Via SFGate

There’s more to the story than lasers and spectral analysis, including a return to nuclear powered robots, this one has a core of plutonium. Not to mention that Curiosity looks like Johnny Five’s bigger, geekier older brother, but that’s not what fascinates me.

It’s the science fiction that does. Two key elements of this mission remind me directly of Star Wars. The first is the Sky Crane that uses rocket thrusters to lower the robot to the surface of Mars.

Continue reading