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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

BONBONS FROM SCI AM


You are getting an inside scoop from the February 2013 issue of Scientific American:

1.  You've all by now heard about the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that President Barack Obama has continued to duck, primarily because of global warming implications.  With John Kerry to become Secretary of State on Monday, it is appearing more and more that the environmental factor will trump need.  The project brings  Canadian tar sands (processed into a liquid) to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.  All the state governors have now approved, leaving the buck on Obama's desk.  The lead environmental organization is 350.org, with an obvious symbolic point that the current carbon dioxide level now approaching 400 parts per million needs to be reduced below 350 PPM.  Compared with normal petroleum, Canadian tar sands double the carbon dioxide emission into the environment.

2.  Have you wondered where our Moon and all the other moons came from?  Here is one current theory.  It's a little convoluted, but, here goes.  Asteroids and other heavenly bodies strike planets with some geological time frame frequency.  These events kick dust into the atmosphere, and because of the physics of particles, becomes a ring around the planet.  Over time, the dust coagulates into a moon.  The larger moons gravitate to the outer orbit.  Mercury and Venus have no moons.  Planet Earth is larger than any moon in our solar system.  Jupiter has 67 moons and Saturn 62.  That ring around Saturn means that more will form over time.  Amazingly enough, most of these moons were discovered since the Year 2000.  Where did planets come from?  You can just about guess.  What about our Sun and all the stars?

3.  At 11 billion miles, Voyager 1 is the farthest manmade object from Earth.  Launched in 1977, we still communicate and it responds.  It takes 17 hours for a message to reach the satellite.  This means that this craft has been traveling at around 35,000 miles per hour.  It will be another 40,000 years before it gets close to a star, Gliese 445, but still 1.6 light years away.  Homo sapiens came to be around that long ago.  


Our closest star is Proxima Centauri at 4.243 light years.  Thus, if Voyager 1 traveled at the speed of light, it would have have already started back to that star on its fifth roundtrip.  Of course, the craft is slowing down and the nuclear batteries will lose power around 2025.  Both Voyager 1 and 2 cost something in the neighborhood of a billion dollars, or around 8 cents/citizen/year.  I would say it was worth it.

4.  Speaking of stars and suns, Planet Earth receives less than one-half of a billionth the energy emitted by our Sun.  That is, for every 2 billion photons, only one hits us.  Someday solar power plants in space located closer to the Sun could well supply all the energy we'll ever need.

5.  You've heard of Lucy, found in 1974, an Australopithecus aferensis, who lived some 3.2 million years ago.  She walked and was believed to be our earliest ancestor.  However, another early woman, Ardi (leftArdipithecus ramidus), was in 1994 found in Ethiopia, and it took 47 scientists 17 years to announce that she lived 4.4 million years ago.  This find, however, is not the ultimate in our search for the earliest common ancestor, as this species existed perhaps as long as 10 million years ago.  The significance of Ardi is that we might not have derived from the chimpanzee.  Actually, Ardi sure looks like a bonobo (below) to me:
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Tropical Cyclone Felleng is at 120 MPH and nicely squeezing south between Madagascar and Reunion:


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