Archive for the ‘exploration’ Category

frackareaExcerpt from the Evening standard:

Until a few years ago Europe and America paid more or less the same amount for their petrochemical feedstock — the US had a slight advantage but not so great after transport and other costs had been factored in. (Middle East plants, sited right by the oilfields, did have such a price advantage but lacked scale.)

This is no longer the case thanks to the fundamental changes across the Atlantic. The Marcellus field, which spreads over several states and is just one of many in the US, produces 15 billion cubic feet of gas a day which is almost twice the UK’s entire consumption. But the result is that US prices have disconnected from the rest of the world and the subsequent feedstock prices have given American chemical plants so vast a price advantage that, on paper at least, there’s no way Europe can compete. It is staring down the barrel of bankruptcy, not now, but in a few short years, unless it can find some way to get its raw-material costs down to American levels.

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Credit: phys.org


Methane hydrates have been known about for years, but cost and technical difficulties have so far been barriers to exploiting them on any kind of scale. Claims that they could ‘flood the atmosphere with climate-changing greenhouse gases’ are the usual over-the-top propaganda.

Commercial development of the globe’s huge reserves of a frozen fossil fuel known as “combustible ice” has moved closer to reality after Japan and China successfully extracted the material from the seafloor off their coastlines, says Phys.org.

But experts said Friday that large-scale production remains many years away—and if not done properly could flood the atmosphere with climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Combustible ice is a frozen mixture of water and concentrated natural gas. Technically known as methane hydrate, it can be lit on fire in its frozen state and is believed to comprise one of the world’s most abundant fossil fuels.

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Credit: NASA/JPL


After 20 years of service its time is up, but due to its plutonium power source Cassini can’t be left to find its own final destination. Before its September demise it will weave through Saturn’s rings making yet more observations.

Cassini has used a gravitational slingshot around Saturn’s moon Titan to put it on a path towards destruction, reports BBC News.

Saturday’s flyby swept the probe into an orbit that takes it in between the planet’s rings and its atmosphere.

This gap-run gives the satellite the chance finally to work out the length of a day on Saturn, and to determine the age of its stunning rings. But the manoeuvre means also that it cannot escape a fiery plunge into Saturn’s clouds in September.
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Renewables’ deep-sea mining conundrum 

Posted: April 14, 2017 by oldbrew in exploration, Geology
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Deep sea mining for rare earth minerals [image credit: BBC News]


To what extent do ‘renewables’ depend on finding sources of non-renewables? Mining is involved – the raw materials have to be found and extracted from the earth.

British scientists exploring an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean have discovered a treasure trove of rare minerals, reports BBC News.

Their investigation of a seamount more than 500km (300 miles) from the Canary Islands has revealed a crust of “astonishingly rich” rock. Samples brought back to the surface contain the scarce substance tellurium in concentrations 50,000 times higher than in deposits on land.

Tellurium is used in a type of advanced solar panel, so the discovery raises a difficult question about whether the push for renewable energy may encourage mining of the seabed. The rocks also contain what are called rare earth elements that are used in wind turbines and electronics.
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Planetary detective work [credit: superwasp.org]


Pattern recognition is still best left to humans it seems.

You don’t need to be a professional astronomer to find new worlds orbiting distant stars, as Phys.org reports.

Darwin mechanic and amateur astronomer Andrew Grey this week helped to discover a new exoplanet system with at least four orbiting planets. But Andrew did have professional help and support.

The discovery was a highlight moment of this week’s three-evening special ABC Stargazing Live, featuring British physicist Brian Cox, presenter Julia Zemiro and others.
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Size comparison of GJ 1132 b (aka Gliese 1132 b) with Earth [credit: Wikipedia]


Early indications from models suggest that ‘an atmosphere rich in water and methane would explain the observations very well.’

Astronomers have detected an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b, reports the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

This marks the first detection of an atmosphere around a low-mass Super-Earth, in terms of radius and mass the most Earth-like planet around which an atmosphere has yet been detected.

Thus, this is a significant step on the path towards the detection of life on an exoplanet. The team, which includes researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, used the 2.2 m ESO/MPG telescope in Chile to take images of the planet’s host star GJ 1132, and measuring the slight decrease in brightness as the planet and its atmosphere absorbed some of the starlight while passing directly in front of their host star.

While it’s not the detection of life on another planet, it’s an important step in the right direction: the detection of an atmosphere around the super-Earth GJ 1132b marks the first time an atmosphere has been detected around a planet with a mass and radius close to that of Earth (1.6 Earth masses, and 1.4 Earth radii).
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shining_sun

With sadness, I’m sharing the news that my Talkshop co-blogger Tim Channon passed away on Friday. Tim had been bravely battling with cancer for some time, and was still upbeat and lively-minded when I spoke with him last week. Since then unfortunately, medical complications set in.

Tim was one of a kind. A humorous, thoughtful and technically brilliant individual. His contribution to our understanding of cyclic phenomena through the analysis software he wrote propelled me into my own research. His patient recording of weather data and survey of UK weather stations demonstrate the depth of interest and passion he had for bringing facts to bear on the climate debate. His dedication, skill and good natured rebukes against uninformed speculation and bad theory puts him in the Pantheon of great sceptical thinkers and scientists.

Tim will be missed and remembered.

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Exoplanets up to 90 times closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun.

Exoplanets up to 90 times closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun.


We did know something about this system already, but more work has led to today’s announcement.

Astronomers have never seen anything like this before, says Space.com: Seven Earth-size alien worlds orbit the same tiny, dim star, and all of them may be capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study reports. 

“Looking for life elsewhere, this system is probably our best bet as of today,” study co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, a professor at the Center for Space and Habitability at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said in a statement. 
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venus_atm
A wave from pole to pole in the cloud tops that doesn’t move – but then disappears? Another Venus conundrum emerges.

A massive, un-moving structure has been discovered in the upper atmosphere of Venus, reports the IB Times.

Scientists detected the feature with the Jaxa’s Akatsuki spacecraft and they believe it is some sort of gravity wave – although they do not understand how it ended up at the altitude of cloud tops.

The bow-shaped structure was first spotted in December 2015 and a team led by scientists from Rikkyo University in Japan were able to observe it over several days.

It measured 10,000km in length and was brighter and hotter than the surrounding atmosphere. When scientists attempted to observe it again a month later, it had disappeared. The team published their findings in the journal Nature Geoscience.
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Still from pulsar animation.  [Image credit: NASA]

Still from pulsar animation. [Image credit: NASA]


The exoplanet revolution began 25 years ago today. On Jan. 9, 1992, astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail published a paper in the journal Nature announcing the discovery of two planets circling an incredibly dense, rapidly rotating stellar corpse known as a pulsar.

It was a landmark find: while several alien-world “candidates” had recently been spotted, Wolszczan and Frail provided the first confirmation that planets exist beyond our own solar system, reports Mike Wall.

“From the very start, the existence of such a system carried with it a prediction that planets around other stars must be common, and that they may exist in a wide variety of architectures, which would be impossible to anticipate on the basis of our knowledge of the solar system alone,” Wolszczan, who’s based at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in a note about the pulsar planets for the “Name Exoworlds” contest sponsored by the International Astronomical Union.
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Ancient Mars may have looked like this - artist's impression [credit: Ittiz / Wikipedia]

Ancient Mars may have looked like this – artist’s impression [credit: Ittiz / Wikipedia]


Finding the right conditions to melt Martian ice could be tricky. Space.com reporting.

A giant deposit of buried ice on Mars contains about as much water as Lake Superior does here on Earth, a new study reports. The ice layer, which spans a greater area than the state of New Mexico, lies in Mars’ mid-northern latitudes and is covered by just 3 feet to 33 feet (1 to 10 meters) of soil.

It therefore represents a vast possible resource for future astronauts exploring the Red Planet, study team members said.

“This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice,” co-author Jack Holt, of the University of Texas, Austin, said in a statement.

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NASA space robot [image credit: phys.org]

NASA space robot [image credit: phys.org]


After all, there’s no ‘C’ in NASA.
H/T GWPF/Sunday Times

US President-elect Donald Trump is set to slash Nasa’s budget for monitoring climate change and instead set a goal of sending humans to the edge of the solar system by the end of the century, and possibly back to the moon.

Mr Trump, who has called climate change a “Chinese hoax”, is believed to want to focus the agency on far-reaching, big banner goals in deep space rather than “Earth-centric climate change spending”.

According to Bob Walker, who has advised Mr Trump on space policy, Nasa has been reduced to “a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring”.

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Familiar sight in Texas [image credit: StateImpact Texas]

Familiar sight in Texas [image credit: StateImpact Texas]


Close to a trillion dollars worth of oil at today’s prices – this should be music to the ears of the incoming Trump administration. Anti-fossil fuel groups not so much.
H/T GWPF

The US Geological Survey said Tuesday that it found what could be the largest deposit of untapped oil ever discovered in America, reports Business Insider.

An estimated average of 20 billion barrels of oil and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids are available for the taking in the Wolfcamp shale, which is in the Midland Basin portion of Texas’ Permian Basin. Based on a West Texas Intermediate crude oil price of $45 per barrel, those deposits are worth about $900 billion.

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The Kuiper Belt region [credit: theplanets.org]

The Kuiper Belt region [credit: theplanets.org]


Details are sketchy but the object is said to be ‘beyond the pull of Neptune’s gravity’, so we can only speculate what and where its planetary master(s) might be.

A team of space scientists at the University of Michigan has discovered a dwarf planet that is approximately half the size of Pluto and twice as far from the sun, reports Phys.org.

The sighting was reported by NPR, which interviewed team lead physicist David Gerdes. He told them credit goes to a group of students who were challenged to find some new objects to add to the ongoing construction of a galaxy map.

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Synchronized orbits of the Kepler-80 system [Credit: Florida Institute of Technology]

Synchronized orbits of the Kepler-80 system [Credit: Florida Institute of Technology]

Another example of planetary resonance has been discovered thanks to NASA’s Kepler space telescope.
H/T Phys.org

Located about 1,100 light years away, Kepler-80, named for the NASA telescope that discovered it, features five small planets orbiting in extreme proximity to their star.

As early as 2012, Kepler scientists found that all five planets orbit in an area about 150 times smaller than the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, with “years” of about one, three, four, seven and nine days.

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uk-piggy-bankResidents affected by fracking could be paid a proportion of the proceeds of shale gas projects, the government has suggested.

A shale wealth fund was unveiled in 2014 to set aside up to 10% of the tax proceeds from fracking to benefit communities in the UK hosting wells.

The PM is now considering paying the money directly to individual households instead of councils and local trusts.

The plan is one option due to be outlined in a consultation on Monday.

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Aurora on Jupiter [image credit: NASA/ESA]

Aurora on Jupiter [image credit: NASA/ESA]


NASA’s Juno spacecraft is closing in on Jupiter. Here the Daily Mail Online reviews the project from a layman’s perspective. Plus we get some Hubble pics.

On Earth they produce mesmerising riots of colour that light up the night sky around the poles. But our planet is not the only world to enjoy stunning aurora – better known as the northern and southern lights.

Now scientists are hoping to unravel the secrets of the biggest such polar light show in our solar system by focusing their attention on Jupiter’s aurora.

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The Kepler-223 planetary system, which has long-term stability because its four planets interact gravitationally to keep the beat of a carefully choreographed dance as they orbit their host star. [credit: W.Rebel]

The Kepler-223 planetary system, which has long-term stability because its four planets interact gravitationally to keep the beat of a carefully choreographed dance as they orbit their host star.
[credit: W.Rebel]


As the report says: ‘Kepler-223’s two innermost planets are in a 4:3 resonance. The second and third are in a 3:2 resonance. And the third and fourth are in a 4:3 resonance.’ They are ‘far more massive than Earth’. Interesting to say the least.

The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system seem to have little in common with the planets of Earth’s own solar system. And yet a new study shows that the Kepler-223 system is trapped in an orbital configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune may have broken from in the early history of the solar system.

“Exactly how and where planets form is an outstanding question in planetary science,” said the study’s lead author, Sean Mills, a graduate student in astronomy & astrophysics at the University of Chicago. “Our work essentially tests a model for planet formation for a type of planet we don’t have in our solar system.”

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Ultraviolet image of Venus' clouds [credit: NASA]

Ultraviolet image of Venus’ clouds [credit: NASA]


Is it the cloud cover or the enormous atmospheric pressure at the surface that makes Venus hot? Whatever, it seems the poles are colder than Earth, and by a wide margin, as Astronomy.com reports. Models based on a ‘greenhouse effect’ weren’t expecting this.

Thanks to a thick layer of cloud cover trapping in heat, Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, with temperatures boiling over at 850 degrees Fahrenheit (454 C). But in a study published last week in Nature Physics, the European Space Agency found something surprising at the planet’s poles: temperatures more frigid than anywhere on Earth.

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Space: the final scrapyard?

Posted: December 23, 2015 by oldbrew in exploration, Travel
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Space debris [credit: NASA]

Space debris [credit: NASA]


So far there are no scrap metal collectors for space junk, as this Science/AAAS report illustrates.

Humans are messy, and not just here on Earth. Now, you can see all the junk we’ve launched into space for yourself with a data-driven animation created for the United Kingdom’s Royal Society by Stuart Grey, an astronomer at University College London.

It all begins in 1957 when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik, a 58.5-centimeter-wide ball emitting radio pulses. A piece of the rocket that took it into orbit was the very first piece of space junk. The United States launched its own satellite, Explorer 1, the next year.

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