The diamond planet

The universe is just full of wonders, and here is another one:

Astronomers have spotted an exotic planet that seems to be made of diamond racing around a tiny star in our galactic backyard.

The new planet is far denser than any other known so far and consists largely of carbon. Because it is so dense, scientists calculate the carbon must be crystalline, so a large part of this strange world will effectively be diamond.

“The evolutionary history and amazing density of the planet all suggest it is comprised of carbon — i.e. a massive diamond orbiting a neutron star every two hours in an orbit so tight it would fit inside our own Sun,” said Matthew Bailes of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

Lying 4,000 light years away, or around an eighth of the way toward the center of the Milky Way from the Earth, the planet is probably the remnant of a once-massive star that has lost its outer layers to the so-called pulsar star it orbits.

via Astronomers discover planet made of diamond | Reuters.

He could-a been the champion of the world

Our week that began with an earthquake ended with a hurricane.  But, as it happened, the latest graphic of Hurricane Irene’s path showed the outer edge of the system passing by just 15 or so miles away.  So it really missed us.  We had some rain and wind, but it wasn’t bad at all, and the power stayed on.  (Which, for this part of Virginia, is remarkable, since gentle breezes are often enough to put us in the dark for hours.)

The hurricane as a whole wasn’t as bad as feared, though it killed 18 people, knocked out power for millions, flooded some areas and did other damage.  Now comes the second guessing, criticizing the governors for evacuating areas and making a bigger deal of the thing than it turned out to be.  But I think the officials did what they needed to do.  No one could tell what the hurricane would do.  An excess of caution and of preparation is better than the blind optimism and lack of preparation that we saw with Hurricane Katrina.   A storm whirling like a buzzsaw (a splendid description I read in one report) running along the entire East Coast is surely something to worry about.  That it lost power and turned into a mere tropical storm by the time it hit New York City is something we should just be thankful for.

But I do need to report something:  Many of the plants in our garden were blown down.  The result was something I can only describe as a crop circle.  Which means that aliens landed in our garden!   In a hurricane!

Do any of the rest of you have hurricane stories?

How did the animals know?

Shortly before the earthquake hit Washington, D.C., the animals in the National Zoo started freaking out.   So did lots of people’s housepets, with sleepy cats suddenly jumping up and heading for the hills just prior to the quake.  Scientists can’t figure out how they knew:

Orangutans, gorillas, flamingos and red-ruffed lemurs acted strangely before humans detected the historic magnitude-5.8 earthquake. Now the question hovering over the zoo is: What did the animals know, and when did they know it?

Therein lies a scientific mystery, one in which hard facts and solid observations are entangled with lore and legend. There has been talk over the years about mysterious electromagnetic fields generated by rupturing faults. There has been speculation about sounds inaudible to humans, and subtle tilting in rock formations, and the release of vapors that people can’t smell.But there also may be less to the mystery than meets the eye, with Tuesday’s zoo weirdness merely serving as a reminder that many wild animals are paying close attention to nature while humans are doing whatever it is that humans do.

The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor that began in central Virginia and shook much of the eastern United States. For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf.

The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants.

And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook.

Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule. . . .

The belief that strange animal behavior is a precursor to earthquakes goes back to antiquity. A recent scientific study suggested that toads fled to higher ground days before the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy. In the most famous case of modern times, snakes and frogs emerged from their holes in 1975 in the dead of winter several weeks before a magnitude-7.3 earthquake in Haicheng, China (the odd animal behavior helped persuade officials to evacuate the city just before the tremor).

via Zoo mystery: How did apes and birds know quake was coming? – The Washington Post.

One explanation has to do with the so-called p-wave, a faint foreshock that precedes the big s-wave in an earthquake.  This is imperceptible to human beings, but maybe animals can pick it up.  The p-wave hit 15 seconds before the big 5.8-on-the-Richter-scale shock.  That would explain some of the animal behavior.  But some of the zoo animals started panicking a full 15 minutes before the quake.

I felt the earth. move. under my feet

I was writing in my office at school when, around 1:51 yesterday, the building and my desk with the built in bookshelf started shaking.  Hard.  Back and forth for thirty seconds.   My mind went just blank, and when I gathered my wits, right at the time it was over, I realized, Earthquake!

I have never experienced one of those and have always been kind of paranoid about it, mildly worried whenever I set foot in California.  I had heard from my California friends that they went through them all the time, that they were usually just mild ripples.  This was no mild ripple!  It was a hard long shake.  It turned out to have been 5.9 on the Richter scale, no less, with an epicenter of around 100 miles away from us in central Virginia.   We are close to Washington, D.C., where I’m told people downtown rushed into the street and the Pentagon and White House were evacuated.  The quake was felt for hundreds of miles, including in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, where JFK airport was shut down.  And yet there seems to be no damage to speak of and no one hurt.  (If you hear reports otherwise, please report them in a comment.)

Some of you readers must have felt it too.  If you did, please report and give your location.  Let’s see if we can calculate how far this thing reached.

Photo of Earthquake Devastation in D.C.

From Bright Young Things

Via FamousDC.com

HT:  Necessary Roughness

Where’s the methane?

One of the major greenhouse global warming gases is methane.  Scientists have discovered that there is not nearly as much methane in the atmosphere as their computer models predicted there should be. 

Scientists say that there has been a mysterious decline in the growth of methane in the atmosphere in the last decades of the 20th Century.

Researchers writing in the journal Nature have come up with two widely differing theories as to the cause.

One suggests the decline was caused by greater commercial use of natural gas, the other that increased use in Asia of artificial fertiliser was responsible.

Both studies agree that human activities are the key element.

And there are suggestions that methane levels are now on the rise again.

Methane is regarded as one of the most potent greenhouse gases, trapping over 20 times more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, levels of methane in the atmosphere have more than doubled from a wide variety of sources, including energy production, the burning of forests, and increased numbers of cattle and sheep.

But between 1980 and the turn of the millennium, the growth rate reduced substantially, leaving scientists puzzled as to the cause.

Now, two teams of researchers have arrived at two very different conclusions for the decline. The first study was led by Dr Murat Aydin from the University of California, Irvine.

“We went after ethane – it’s another hydrocarbon similar to methane, it has common sources, but is easier to trace. We determined what ethane did during the second half of the 20th century using ancient air that we collected at polar ice sheets.

“We think the trend we see in methane is best explained by dramatic changes in emissions linked to fossil fuel production and use which seem to have declined in the 1980s and 1990s.

via BBC News – New theories over methane puzzle.

The big question, then, is what this does to the global warming scare.


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