Archive for the ‘science’ Category

74% of US coal plants threatened by renewables, but emissions continue to rise

March 26th, 2019
Wind turbines near a coal plant.

Enlarge / Wind turbines spin as steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jäenschwalde coal-fired power plant. (credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report on Monday saying that in 2018, "global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7 percent to 33 Gigatonnes." That's the most growth in emissions that the world has seen since 2013.

Coal use contributed to a third of the total increase, mostly from new coal-fired power plants in China and India. This is worrisome because new coal plants have a lifespan of roughly 50 years. But the consequences of climate change are already upon us, and coal's hefty emissions profile compared to other energy sources means that, globally, carbon mitigation is going to be a lot more difficult to tackle than it may look from here in the US.

Even in the US, carbon emissions grew by 3.1 percent in 2018, according to the IEA. (This closely tracks estimates by the Rhodium Group, which released a preliminary report in January saying that US carbon emissions increased by 3.4 percent in 2018.)

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Posted in coal, electricity, Energy, Policy, science | Comments (0)

Vice president directs NASA to return to the Moon by 2024

March 26th, 2019
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Enlarge / Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. (credit: NASA)

On Tuesday, at a museum within a stone's throw of Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a significant space policy speech that called for American men and women to return to the Moon by 2024. If the Trump administration follows through on the policies Pence outlined—admittedly a huge if—this was arguably the most consequential space speech since President Kennedy's Moon speech in 1962.

However, Pence's comments, and some of the plan later outlined by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, raised significant questions about the viability of these ideas.

During a 30-minute speech that Ars previewed last week, Pence said NASA has moved too slow for too long. Half a century ago, the agency only took eight years to go to the Moon, Pence said, when NASA didn't know how to do the job. Therefore, he was not satisfied with NASA's stated aim of landing humans on the Moon by 2028, which would come 11 years after President Trump first established the goal of returning humans to the lunar surface.

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Choose your own facts? In quantum mechanics, you kind of can

March 26th, 2019
Eugene Wigner first came up with the thought experiment this real experiment is based on.

Enlarge / Eugene Wigner first came up with the thought experiment this real experiment is based on. (credit: Denver Post Inc (Photo By David Cupp/The Denver Post via Getty Images))

“More than one reality exists” screams the headline. Cue sighs of tired dread from physicists everywhere as they wonder what otherwise bland result has been spun out of control.

In this case, though, it turns out that the paper and the underlying theory are much more interesting than that takeaway. Essentially, modern physics tells us that two observers of the same event may never agree on the result, even if they have all possible knowledge. This is already accepted as part of special relativity, but now we have experimental proof that it applies to quantum mechanics as well. 

What Galileo and Einstein tell us

Let’s start with the simplest possible example of how we typically resolve conflicting measurements. I am standing on a platform and measure the speed of an approaching train to be 180km/hr. You are on the train and measure the speed of the train to be 0km/hr. We can resolve the difference by making an additional measurement on our relative speeds. Afterward, we both know that we’ve measured the speed correctly relative to our own motion. 

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Posted in Entanglement, measurement problem, quantum mechanics, science, superposition state | Comments (0)

It’s unfortunate NASA canceled the all-female EVA, but it’s the right decision

March 26th, 2019
NASA astronaut Anne McClain needs to use a smaller spacesuit.

Enlarge / NASA astronaut Anne McClain needs to use a smaller spacesuit. (credit: NASA)

NASA announced on Monday afternoon that it had canceled a plan to have astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch perform the agency's first all-female spacewalk on Friday. The decision follows McClain's first spacewalk outside the International Space Station, which occurred last Friday, March 22.

"Mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station," the space agency said. "McClain learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso—essentially the shirt of the spacesuit—fits her best. Because only one medium-size torso can be made ready by Friday, March 29, Koch will wear it."

Astronaut Nick Hague will suit up along with Koch this Friday to replace a set of batteries outside the station that store solar power for use when the station is in the Earth's shadow. This decision to replace McClain with Hague has raised a number of questions, including some conspiracy theories that NASA is incompetent or misogynistic. Neither of these is true, although the space agency does have a problem with its spacesuit inventory and future procurement plans. Let's dig into some of the questions raised here.

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Posted in astronauts, eva, extravehicular activity, international space station, NASA, science, spacewalk | Comments (0)

Robot ‘Natural Selection’ Recombines Into Something Totally New

March 26th, 2019
If we let robots design themselves in simulations, they can come up with totally novel forms and materials—and some can reproduce to form lightly mutated offspring.

Posted in science, Science / Robots | Comments (0)

It’s Either the Best Time or the Worst Time to Have a Baby

March 26th, 2019
Here’s everything you want or need to know about reproduction—from the best fertility apps to secret Facebook groups for egg donors.

Posted in science, Science / Health | Comments (0)

$35 billion in research funding “now at stake” after Trump executive order

March 25th, 2019
Image of a protest

Enlarge / A protest near the UC Berkeley campus. (credit: Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Imagess)

Over the past several years, college campuses have experienced a number of incidents related to free speech. These have included cases of disruptive protests, controversial speakers being "disinvited," and in rare cases, physical altercations. The speakers who have been the focus of these controversies are often identified with conservative causes. Notably, in early March, a conservative activist was assaulted on the UC Berkeley campus.

These high-profile incidents apparently inspired President Trump to issue a rather dramatic threat in early March: campuses that don't protect free speech could see their research funding cut. On Friday, he ostensibly followed through on this, issuing an executive order targeting "free inquiry" at colleges and universities. But the language of the order is vague enough that its consequences for research funding are completely opaque.

Uncertain threats

The order itself actually lumps together two unrelated issues. The first is the cost of education relative to its likely payoff in terms of gainful employment; the order seeks to ensure better disclosure of this by colleges. That has been joined to what the order refers to as "free inquiry" issues, which the order defines as related to First Amendment compliance—meaning free speech on campuses.

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Posted in free speech, Policy, research, science, science funding | Comments (0)

Ebola cases surpass 1,000 in DRC outbreak, the second largest of all time

March 25th, 2019
Health workers are seen inside the 'red zone' of an Ebola treatment centre, which was attacked in the early hours of the morning on March 9, 2019 in Butembo.

Enlarge / Health workers are seen inside the 'red zone' of an Ebola treatment centre, which was attacked in the early hours of the morning on March 9, 2019 in Butembo. (credit: Getty | John Wessels)

The tally of deadly Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ticked above 1,000 this weekend as health responders continue to struggle to thwart the disease amid violent conflict.

The outbreak has been raging since August in the country’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which sit on the eastern side of the country, bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. The World Health Organization reported 1,009 cases (944 confirmed, 65 probable), including 629 deaths (564 confirmed, 65 probable) on Saturday, March 23.

The outbreak is the second largest of all time, surpassed only by the 2014 West African outbreak, which involved more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.

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Posted in democratic republic of Congo, ebola, Infectious disease, science, virus, World Health Organization | Comments (0)

For just the fourth time, a tropical cyclone forms in the Southern Atlantic

March 25th, 2019
NOAA satellite image of Tropical Storm Iba off the Brazil coast on Monday morning.

Enlarge / NOAA satellite image of Tropical Storm Iba off the Brazil coast on Monday morning. (credit: Tropical Tidbits)

Only three tropical cyclones are known to have formed in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the most recent of which was Tropical Storm Anita in 2010.

On Sunday, Brazilian meteorologists began tracking a new tropical storm, Iba, that has formed off the country's southeast coast. According to the Brazilian Navy Hydrographic Center, the storm formed maximum winds of 40mph and a central pressure 1008 millibars. Present estimates suggest it has intensified to 50mph, but it is not expected to directly threaten land.

Although Iba is not all that far from the Brazilian coast, atmospheric steering currents will pick up the storm and carry it to the south and then southwest by Tuesday or Wednesday. Once over the Southern Atlantic Ocean, cooler waters and unfavorable winds should act to dissipate the storm. Over the next day or so, it should come nearest to Brazilian towns Caravelas and Vitoria.

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Posted in science | Comments (0)

Simple Experiments Show How Motion Is Equivalent to Heat

March 25th, 2019
A big idea in thermodynamics is the mechanical equivalent of heat, a concept that spells out how moving objects and changing temperatures relate.

Posted in science, Science / Physics and Math | Comments (0)