Friday, November 23, 2012

The Life and Death of Bright Things

Astrophysics: "the nature of stars"
The two Greek words that are used to form the English word "astrophysics" are "astro" meaning star, and "physis" meaning nature.

Hence, the meaning of "astrophysics" includes "the study of the nature of stars."

What brings it home is that this includes the nature of our Sun.

Although quite interesting in itself, the discipline or science of astrophysics studies only one small part of what can be called abiotic evolution:
Thus, the big picture of ~10.21 billion years of abiotic evolution which preceded that much smaller ~3.54 billion years of biotic evolution is often ignored or given short shrift.
(Putting A Face On Machine Mutation - 3). When we hear the word "evolution" we tend to have a mental knee-jerk reaction and think of monkeys becoming humans (possibly because we were all teens once).

Yet, human evolution is the tiniest portion of the evolutionary story (ibid).

Focusing on that small segment is like writing an autobiography about yourself, but including only the last paragraph of the last chapter in your book to explain who you are.

The nature of stars, in terms of cosmology, involves evolutionary processes that are much, much older than recent-by-comparison human evolution.

One of the fundamental tenets of astrophysics, the study of the the nature of stars, is that stars give life but then they take that life back:
Earth's fate is precarious. As a red giant, the Sun will have a maximum radius beyond the Earth's current orbit, 1 AU (1.5×1011 m), 250 times the present radius of the Sun. However, by the time it is an asymptotic giant branch star, the Sun will have lost roughly 30% of its present mass due to a stellar wind, so the orbits of the planets will move outward. If it were only for this, Earth would probably be spared, but new research suggests that Earth will be swallowed by the Sun owing to tidal interactions. Even if Earth would escape incineration in the Sun, still all its water will be boiled away and most of its atmosphere would escape into space.
(Did Abiotic Intelligence Precede Biotic Intelligence?, emphasis added). Our infantile popular science does not tell us much about that part of the story.

Rather, it repeats the story that ancient Sun worshipping religions repeated, stuck way back there like a needle in an old 78 RPM record:
All living beings on the face of earth get their life force only due the rays of sun.
(Sun Worship In Hinduism). The modern cosmological version is that carbon was produced in stars after they evolved, which then made current carbon-based life possible.

But it doesn't end there at the beginning, it ends at the end with (Sun worshippers cover your ears) "stellar death."

That is because stars have a "life cycle" or probably better put, a beginning and an end.

Our human intelligence finds this Sun-life-giver story quite interesting until we run across information that rains on our parade, then we tend to go into denial.

Typical for all things that are "bummers."

That is because we are intellectually infantile as a species, not yet cosmic adults as a species, and at this point in our evolution, it can be reasonably argued that our species may not ever become cosmic adults (What Kind of Intelligence Is A Lethal Mutation?).

We have talked about some stars, for a couple of years now, that have been challenging the stability of our astrophysics theory:
Another issue challenges our understanding as well:
"A massive star a million times brighter than our sun exploded way too early in its life, suggesting scientists don't understand stellar evolution as well as they thought."
(Star Explodes, So Might Theory, emphasis added). There is some mystery about the red giant Betelgeuse also.
(Are We Really Sure How Stars Decline?, 10/9/10). Some segments of the blogosphere have associated the giant star Betelgeuse (a.k.a. Alpha Orionis) with the Mayan 2012 myth:
If you’ve read or heard that the star Betelgeuse might explode in a few weeks or a few months – that it will temporarily add a second sun to Earth’s sky and somehow also possibly prove the world will end in 2012 (to which we can only say, “huh?”) – you might want to find more reliable sources. While it’s possible that Betelgeuse will explode in our lifetimes, it isn’t likely. Someday, Betelgeuse will become a supernova. This event is just as likely to happen thousands or millions of years from now as tomorrow.
(Betelgeuse Will Explode Someday). Older text stated that Betelgeuse would last another billion years before going supernova, but later observations indicated that the older models were not accurate in that respect.

The principle of stellar beginning and ending is still real, but the details of when they end their process and go supernova are not so solid anymore.

By comparison little is said  about our own Sun, which will follow the same pattern as Betelgeuse and other similar stars, and at some unknown time will extinguish all carbon based life on the Earth as well as any life on other planets near the Sun.

Cosmic adults would be aware of this and would be behaving in a manner contrary to our current infantile behavior, that is, as a species we would be preparing in unity.

Instead, together we are bringing about the destruction of our home world as we also fail to prepare for demise of the Sun:
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Brainy Quotes). Something is infantile about a species when it does not gather together to protect itself, but instead destroys itself.

Since infantile behavior is sure to bring on our extinction as a species, why not morph into cosmic adults (Compromise And Settle On A Moon)?

The lyrics to the following song are here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Out of Sight Out of Mind

Smog of the visible sort
In the 1960's the smog was so thick in some U.S. cities you could not see more than a block down the street at times.

Some may ask: "Isn't smog which we can see worse than smog we cannot see?"

Because green house gases like methane and carbon dioxide are invisible, hasn't the Earth's atmosphere been cleaned up since the 1960's so that we can now be proud of our environmental accomplishments?

Does it matter, in terms of nonpoisonous, whether or not we can see carbon dioxide or methane, or are they still deadly in environmental terms?

The video clip at the bottom of this post simulates carbon dioxide with balloon looking balls, each representing one ton of carbon dioxide.

It shows how much is there, something we tend to be unaware of because when it is out of sight it tends to be out of mind.

The video helps us to graphically understand what this means:
Carbon dioxide is the single most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, contributing ~64% to radiative forcing by LLGHGs. It is responsible for 85% of the increase in radiative forcing over the past decade and 81% over the last five years. For about 10 000 years before the industrial revolution, the atmospheric abundance of CO2 was nearly constant at ~280 ppm. This level represented a balance among the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere.

Since 1750, atmospheric CO2 has increased by 39%, primarily because of emissions from combustion of fossil fuels (total of 8.4±0.5 PgC in 2009...), deforestation and land-use change. High-precision measurements of atmospheric CO2 beginning in 1958 show that the average increase in CO2 in the atmosphere corresponds to ~55% of the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel combustion. The remaining ~45% has been removed from the atmosphere by the oceans and the terrestrial biosphere. The airborne fraction, the portion of CO2 emitted by fossil fuel combustion that remains in the atmosphere, varies interannually without a confirmed global trend. Globally averaged CO2 in 2010 was 389.0 ppm and the increase from the previous year was 2.3 ppm (Figure 3). This growth rate is higher than the average for the 1990s (~1.5 ppm/yr) and the average for the past decade (~2.0 ppm/yr).
(UN WMO Report, PDF). This trend not only has continued, it also broke records in 2011:
The volume of greenhouse gases causing global warming rose to a new high last year, the UN World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday, warning it is becoming increasingly unlikely the world can limit rising temperatures to UN-backed targets.

Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) — the single most important man-made contributor to climate change — rose to 390.9 parts per million in 2011, which is 2.0 ppm higher than in 2010, the WMO said.
(Raw Story). These numbers have catastrophic implications which the powers that be cannot seem to grasp, can't seem to comprehend:
Based on current pledges, global average temperatures could rise by three to five degrees Celsius (5.4 to 9.0 degrees Fahrenheit) this century — way above the two degrees Celsius being targeted, said a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Urgent and decisive action could still see the world get back on track, but this would mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent to about 44 billion tonnes in 2020 from an estimated 50.1 billion tonnes per year now.
(UN: Goals ... further out of reach). These numbers represent what catastrophes like Katrina and Sandy look like on a graph, but maybe the video below illustrates it better for us.

Think of each "ball" as a bag of garbage, because pollution is garbage:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mars: Analyzing Layers of History - 3

This is a series where I keep an eye on the developments happening on the planet Mars.

It involves watching the NASA video and sound conferences where NASA updates us with the latest events with the Curiosity Rover at Gale Crater.

Less often the events of the Opportunity Rover at Endeavour Crater are also very significant.

Some information has been let out indicating that the Curiosity Rover team is excited and bulging at the seams with a discovery at Gale Crater that will change the history books.

I think they will eventually find evidence of biotic evolution, microbial life signs on Mars, and I am suspicious that this discovery is that big:
Scientists working on NASA's six-wheeled rover on Mars have a problem. But it's a good problem.

They have some exciting new results from one of the rover's instruments. On the one hand, they'd like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument.

It's a bind scientists frequently find themselves in, because by their nature, scientists like to share their results. At the same time, they're cautious because no one likes to make a big announcement and then have to say "never mind."


"This data is gonna be one for the history books."
(NPR, emphasis added). Once they are certain that whatever they found did not come from the Earth along with Curiosity, they will hold a news conference and let us know.

Some similar Mars posts: The Mystery of Science Friction, Weekend Rebel Science Excursion, Cosmic Rosetta Stones?, and Throw The Textbook Out.

UPDATE: The Curiosity team is playing down the expectations now.

The previous post in this series is here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

When Accountability Is A Plague - 3

One of the several pillars of democracy is accountability.

To the people accountability is sweet, but to the politicians and other government officials who are held accountable by the people, it is sour.

This pillar of democracy which we call accountability is not limited to war crimes, torture, or other governmental malfeasance that has seemingly gone by the wayside during the two past presidents, no, it should be applied to lower level officialdom as well.

Nevertheless, it seems that all too often even the notion of accountability at those levels is gone now too.

The "you're doin' a heckuva job Brownie" syndrome has spread from the daze of Katrina to the realm of Hurricane-Superstorm Sandy:
Authorities in New York and New Jersey simply allowed heavy development of at-risk coastal areas to continue largely unabated in recent decades, even as the potential for a massive storm surge in the region became increasingly clear.
(Policy of Denial is Deadly). The losses could be significant due to the stupor and daze official policy mirrors:
The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment - including much of its newest and most expensive stock - at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.

Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.
(Train Yard Floods After Warning Ignored). Being forewarned is forearmed unless of course the warnings are ignored.

The climate change deniers who are infecting the minds of everyone they can are guilty of these deaths and damages to people and things.

The previous post in this series is here.

Hey BAU accountants! A little one an one an one is three for your listening pleasure: