Science & Technology

Cloud Precipitation

Researchers confirm fragmented 'super-terminal' raindrops

rain measuring equipment
© [email protected]
Michigan Tech physicists make a splash with rain discovery
Five years ago, a research team at Michigan Technological University and Universidad Nacional Autanoma de Mexico (National University of Mexico) detected tiny, super-fast raindrops. The finding was unexpected—small drops fell much faster than expected—and now this unexpectedly fast-falling rain has been verified.

Not only do these small raindrops fall faster than expected, they fall faster than they should be able to alone. As an object falls, two forces clash: Gravity pulls it down while air resists. Where the force of gravity matches the force of air resistance, the object reaches its "terminal speed." While the name sounds final, it's not. These small raindrops move faster—they are "super-terminal" raindrops.

Study co-author Alex Kostinski, a professor of physics at Michigan Tech, says confirming the speed was exciting, but not the most surprising result.

"What was so surprising was just how many drops violated the speed limit, so to speak," he says.

Over five months, the research team found super-terminal raindrops in all six rain storms they studied at a site just outside Charleston, S.C. Of the 1.5 million raindrops measured, all drops 0.8 mm and larger fell at expected speeds—and for drops sized 0.3 to 0.8 mm, 30 to 60 percent of them fell at super-terminal speeds.

Comment: In Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection, Pierre Lescaudron discusses the charge re-balancing process of raindrops (as well as lightning and hurricanes).
When a water drop falls to the ground, it can capture electrons from the bottom of the cloud or below it, thus carrying a negative charge to the ground and rebalancing electric potential differences in a manner similar to lightning.
As well as the atmospheric electrical field having "an influence on raindrops formation and size" perhaps it can also affect their speed, thereby producing these 'super-terminal raindrops'?

There does seem to be a correlation between localized intense rainfall and electrical discharges in the form of lightning:
Kane found that the maximum rainfall coincided well with those areas which received the highest concentration of CG [cloud-to-ground] strikes. The greatest concentration of CG strikes (57% of the total storm CG strikes) produced just over half of the total volumetric precipitation over only 16% of the area that received rainfall.
With our increasing charged atmosphere are we going to experience more 'deluges' in the future?


The cosmological limits of information storage

Information black hole
© unknown
An important part of long-term thinking is the never-ending search for very long-lived methods of information storage. A perfect, eternal storage medium still eludes us; most of the ones we've invented and used over the course of civilization have had their limitations - even stone, nickel, and sapphire have a shelf life.

But new research by a team of physicists now suggests that searching for a storage medium that lives forever may be a waste of energy, because the laws of physics themselves limit the amount of time that any information can be kept.

In a paper recently published by the New Journal of Physics, the researchers review how spacetime dynamics might influence the storage of information by asking how much data we can reliably hold on to from the beginning to the end of time.

In order to answer that question, the team combined Einsteinian cosmology with quantum theories about the nature of matter and reality. They worked with a standard model of the universe, called the Friedman-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric: based on Einstein'stheory of general relativity, it describes a universe that is homogeneous and isotropic, and therefore expands (or contracts) uniformly in all directions.

Comment: And yet life shows a seemingly spontaneous increase in information. What does the fact that humans need to 'continuously migrate our data' suggest about the nature of information in the universe: its very presence and persistence as a result of intelligence? Probably more than many physicists would care to admit...

Eye 1

Sleep paralysis linked to genetics, anxiety & stressful events

The Nightmare
© Henry Fuseli (1781)
Henry Fuseli's "The Nightmare" may have been inspired by the chest-crushing sensation and hallucinations of sleep paralysis.
People who've experienced the strange phenomenon of sleep paralysis may feel like they can't move their body when they're falling asleep or waking up, or may have hallucinations that there's a malevolent presence pressing down on them. Now, a new study suggests the phenomenon may have a heritable cause.

In the study, researchers asked a group of more than 800 twins and siblings whether they had experienced sleep paralysis. The results showed that genetics were partially to blame for the strange phenomenon.

In addition, the people in the study who had anxiety, slept poorly or had experienced stress in their lives were more likely to have these nighttime bouts of paralysis, the researchers found.

The findings shed some light on what is still quite a mysterious condition, the researchers said.

"The cause is still unknown, but we think it's something to do with disruption of the regular sleep cycle," said Daniel Denis, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield in England, and co-author of the study published online Feb. 9 in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Possible Nova in Sco

Following the posting on the Central Bureau's Transient Object Confirmation Page about a possible Nova in Sco (TOCP Designation: PNV J17032620-3504140) we performed some follow-up of this object remotely through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer) of iTelescope network (MPC Code Q62 - Siding Spring).

On our images taken on February 13.7, 2015 we can confirm the presence of an optical counterpart with R-CCD magnitude 8.6 at coordinates:

R.A. = 17 03 26.19, Decl.= -35 04 18.1

(equinox 2000.0; UCAC3 catalogue reference stars).

Our annotated confirmation image. Click on it for a bigger version:
Nova in Scorpio
© Remanzacco Observatory
An animation showing a comparison between our confirmation image and the archive POSS2/UKSTU plate (R Filter - 1991).
Blue Planet

Kepler-186F is first Earth-like planet discovered in a nearby star's habitable zone

Kepler 186F

Kepler 186F compared to Earth
For the past three decades, the SETI Institute has been participating in a number of scientific explorations to answer the question "Are we alone?" Today, my co-authors and I are announcing the achievement of another milestone in the exploration. We have confirmed the first Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of a star other than the Sun.

This planet is named Kepler-186f and it is one of five planets that have thus far been detected by NASA's Kepler space telescope in orbit about the star Kepler-186. This star is smaller and cooler than the Sun, of a type called an M-dwarf or red dwarf, and all its known planets are small as well, with sizes less than 1.5 times the size of Earth. The planet Kepler-186f is the smallest, being within 10% of the size of Earth and orbits furthest from the host star, within the habitable zone. This is the region around a star within which a planet can sustain liquid water on its surface given the right atmospheric conditions. The Kepler-186 planetary system lies in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, about 500 light-years away.

Jupiter's 'great red spot' shows true colors in new infrared image, glows "white"

infrared jupiter
Pretty in pink!
The largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter, is known for its giant red storm, the "Great Red Spot" twice the size of the Earth. In a new infrared image by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan the massive storm appears surprisingly white.

Although detailed images are usually taken by planetary probes or space-based telescopes, Jupiter was photographed by IRCS (Infrared Camera and Spectrograph) mounted on the Subaru Telescope, an 8.2-meter optical-infared instrument at the summit of Mauna Kea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island.

White spot on Jupiter
Enhanced techniques on Jupiter image.
According to National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, it succeeded in capturing the details of Jupiter with a level of precision equal to planetary probe missions or the Hubble Space Telescope thanks to the adaptive optics which correct for turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere.

Apart from the Great Red Spot the image also shows Ganymede, a satellite of Jupiter and the largest moon in the Solar System, in the upper right. Moving relative to Jupiter, it appears stretched into a "rainbow" in the image, because Ganymede moved during the time required to take the picture.

Comment: The Great Red Spot is as tall as the Earth and almost three times as wide. At its narrowest point it is still six times the diameter of the largest hurricane measured on Earth. Despite being 1300 times the volume of earth, Jupiter completes a rotation in about 10 hours, which magnifies the Coriolis Effect responsible for cyclones on planets with atmosphere. Smaller turbulence adds up to produce a giant storm. The Great Red Spot never comes to land so it has no friction or change in temperature due to land mass to weaken the storm. The pressure and temperature variations in Jupiter's atmosphere is huge - up to 10 times that of Earth with massive gas reservoirs that can support such a large storm for a very long time.


Quantum world: Where the future affects the past

Kater Murch

Kater Murch
We're so used to murder mysteries that we don't even notice how mystery authors play with time. Typically the murder occurs well before the midpoint of the book, but there is an information blackout at that point and the reader learns what happened then only on the last page.

If the last page were ripped out of the book, physicist Kater Murch, PhD, said, would the reader be better off guessing what happened by reading only up to the fatal incident or by reading the entire book?

The answer, so obvious in the case of the murder mystery, is less so in world of quantum mechanics, where indeterminacy is fundamental rather than contrived for our reading pleasure.

Even if you know everything quantum mechanics can tell you about a quantum particle, said Murch, an assistant professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, you cannot predict with certainty the outcome of a simple experiment to measure its state. All quantum mechanics can offer are statistical probabilities for the possible results.

The orthodox view is that this indeterminacy is not a defect of the theory, but rather a fact of nature. The particle's state is not merely unknown, but truly undefined before it is measured. The act of measurement itself that forces the particle to collapse to a definite state.

In the Feb. 13 issue of Physical Review Letters, Kater Murch describes a way to narrow the odds. By combining information about a quantum system's evolution after a target time with information about its evolution up to that time, his lab was able to narrow the odds of correctly guessing the state of the two-state system from 50-50 to 90-10.

It's as if what we did today, changed what we did yesterday. And as this analogy suggests, the experimental results have spooky implications for time and causality -- at least in microscopic world to which quantum mechanics applies.

Tesla unveils batteries that can power entire homes out soon

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk
© Reuters / Rebecca Cook
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the lithium-ion battery technology the company has already developed can be used in the home, although Musk wouldn't say exactly what it would cost or when the company would be able to officially roll it out, but he hinted it would be soon.

The design, Musk added, is already finished and production of the battery could begin as soon as six months from now. Musk told reporters he was very pleased with preliminary tests of the battery, which reportedly could last up to a week before needing to be recharged.

"We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people's houses or businesses fairly soon," Musk said during a conference call Wednesday that focused on company earnings and which was first reported by Bloomberg News.
Grey Alien

Researchers call for interstellar messages to alien civilizations

Alien Message
© Arne Nordmann/Creative Commons
A graphic message sent into space by the Arecibo radio telescope in the 1970s.
San Jose, California — Is it time to send deliberate messages to the stars, in the hopes of reaching alien civilizations? Advocates in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) say that moment is long overdue. But other researchers want to take a more cautious approach and seek an international consensus before outing Earth to the rest of the universe. Scientists in both camps faced off today at a debate held at a meeting of AAAS (publisher of Science Insider) here.

Douglas Vakoch, the director of interstellar message composition at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, doesn't dismiss the need to consider ethical or political issues, but says that it will be tough to achieve a consensus. "It's 'either-or' thinking," he says. "Either we have international discussion, or we transmit. We should be doing both." But David Brin, an astrophysicist and science fiction author here, says that Earth's relative radio quietude should not be changed so radically, so quickly. "If you're going to transform one of the major characteristics ... of our planet, we've learned that small groups shouldn't do that peremptorily."

Since the SETI movement began in the 1960s, it has mostly involved using radio telescopes to listen to bands in the electromagnetic spectrum for something out of the ordinary. In contrast, instances of active SETI, also called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or METI—beaming deliberate messages to the heavens—have been much rarer. In 1974, a radio message was broadcast from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico toward a cluster of stars 25,000 light-years away. Brin says there have been other "stunts." In 2008, for instance, the tortilla chip company Doritos sent an advertisement from a radar station in Norway to a potentially habitable star system 42 light-years away.

The giant salt mine 1200 feet beneath Detroit, Michigan

salt mine
Salt mine tunnel beneath Detroit
Detroit's salt mines are like an underground city within the city. It is a massive expanse of 1,500 acres and over 100 miles of roads right under everyone's feet. It stretches from Dearborn, located in the northwest of Detroit's metropolitan area, and known to automobile lovers as Henry Ford's birthplace, via Melvindale to Allen Park in the southwest.

The Detroit Salt and Manufacturing Company operated the mine until 1983 but then falling salt prices forced the mine to stop production. In its heyday in the 1920s, 1940s and '50s, the mine was open to the public with guided tours - a popular educational trip for school classes. Today, the entrance to the
Michigan basin
The great Michigan Basin
mine at 12841 Sanders Street is only for delivery trucks and public tours have not been conducted since the 1980s.

But first things first. How did the salt get under the city of Detroit in the first place? For an answer to that question, we have to go back about 400 million years when the first humans weren't even a speck on the horizon. An area today known as the Michigan Basin was then separated from the ocean and kept sinking lower and lower into the Earth. Salty ocean water kept pouring into it until gradually, the ocean receded, leaving the water to evaporate and huge salt deposits behind.

Then, through glacial activity, the Niagara Escarpment formed - a basalt rock area including the whole state of Michigan and beyond - and buried the salt layer. Today, the Great Lakes rest on the basalt rock and the salt layer, some 1200 feet below, being the largest salt deposit in the world - some 71 trillion tons of unmined salt remain according to some estimates.

Comment: The geology of the Great Lakes salt mining area consists of sedimentary deposits of shale, limestone, sandstone, dolomite, gypsum, anhydrite, and rock salt (halite). These formations within the mining area are relatively continuous and generally undisturbed by faults or other forms of sharp ground movements. The Salina Group actually consists of a number of individual salt beds separated by layers of shale, dolomite, and anhydrite. Under Michigan the formation varies from a minimum of approximately 800 ft to a maximum depth of approximately 6800 ft, while the top of the formation under Ohio, near the West Virginia boundary, reaches a maximum depth of approximately 6000 ft.

Comment: The estimates of salt deposits in Michigan are astronomical. Geological studies estimate that 55 counties of the Lower Peninsula cover 30,000 trillion tons of salt. But like much of Michigan's mineral wealth, only a fraction of this salt can be economically recovered.

As winter conditions progressively worsen, rock salt may be upcoming in demand.