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merbs writes: Harvard has long been home to one of the fiercest advocates for climate engineering. This week, Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences published a research announcement headlined "Adjusting Earth's Thermostat, With Caution." That might read as oxymoronic — intentionally altering the planet's climate has rarely been considered a cautious enterprise — but it fairly accurately reflects the thrust of several new studies published by the Royal Society, all focused on exploring the controversial field of geoengineering.
308 comments | 2 days ago
HughPickens.com writes Christina Nunez reports in National Geographic that in the past four years, at least 29 coal-fired plants in 10 states have switched to natural gas or biomass while another 54 units, mostly in the US Northeast and Midwest, are slated to be converted over the next nine years. By switching to natural gas, plant operators can take advantage of a relatively cheap and plentiful US supply. The change can also help them meet proposed federal rules to limit heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, given that electricity generation from natural gas emits about half as much carbon as electricity from coal does.
But not everyone is happy with the conversions. The Dunkirk plant in western New York, slated for conversion to natural gas, is the focus of a lawsuit by environmental groups that say the $150 million repowering will force the state's energy consumers to pay for an unnecessary facility. "What we're concerned about is that the Dunkirk proceeding is setting a really, really bad precedent where we're going to keep these old, outdated, polluting plants on life support for political reasons," says Christopher Amato. Dunkirk's operator, NRG, wanted to mothball the plant in 2012, saying it was not economical to run. The utility, National Grid, said shutting it down could make local power supplies less reliable, a problem that could be fixed by boosting transmission capacity—at a lower cost than repowering Dunkirk. Meanwhile the citizens of Dunkirk are happy the plant is staying open. "We couldn't let it happen. We would lose our tax base, we would lose our jobs, we would lose our future," said State Sen. Catharine M. Young. "This agreement saves us. It gives us a foundation on which to build our economy. It gives us hope. This is our community's Christmas miracle!"
142 comments | 2 days ago
Yesterday we ran video #1 of 2 about the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) at the Iowa State Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. They have partners from other national laboratories, universities, and industry, too. Obviously there is more than enough information on this subject that Dr. King can easily fill two 15-minute videos, not to mention so many Google links that instead of trying to list all of them, we're giving you one link to Google using the search term "rare earths." Yes, we know Rare Earth would be a great name for a rock band. But the mineral rare earths are important in the manufacture of items ranging from strong magnets to touch screens and rechargeable batteries, so please watch the video(s) or at least read the transcript(s). (Alternate Video Link)
11 comments | 2 days ago
CMI in this context is the Critical Materials Institute at the Iowa State Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. They have partners from other national laboratories, universities, and industry, too. Rare earths, while not necessarily as rare as the word "rare" implies, are hard to mine, separate, and use. They are often found in parts per million quantities, so it takes supercomputers to suss out which deposits are worth going after. This is what Dr. King and his coworkers spend their time doing; finding concentrations of rare earths that can be mined and refined profitably.
On November 3 we asked you for questions to put to Dr. King. Timothy incorporated some of those questions into the conversation in this video -- and tomorrow's video too, since we broke this into two parts because, while the subject matter may be fascinating, we are supposed to hold video lengths down to around 10 minutes, and in this case we still ended up with two videos close to 15 minutes each. And this stuff is important enough that instead of lining up a list of links, we are giving you one link to Google using the search term "rare earths." Yes, we know Rare Earth would be a great name for a rock band. But the mineral rare earths are important in the manufacture of items from strong magnets to touch screens and rechargeable batteries. (Alternate Video Link)
27 comments | 3 days ago
sciencehabit writes For decades, geologists have noted the signs of ancient landslides in southwestern Utah. Although many parts of the landscape don't look that odd at first glance, certain layers include jumbled masses of fractured rock sandwiched among thick veins of lava, ash, and mud. Now, new fieldwork suggests that many of those ancient debris flows are the result of one of Earth's largest known landslides, which covered an area nearly 39 times the size of Manhattan.
44 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes Toyota has announced the name of its new hydrogen-powered car: Mirai, which means "future" in Japanese. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said: "Today, we are at a turning point in automotive history. A turning point where a four-door sedan can travel 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen, can be refueled in under five minutes and emit only water vapor."
192 comments | 5 days ago
Recently you had a chance to ask acclaimed author of comics, novels, and television, Warren Ellis, about his work and sci-fi in general. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.
15 comments | 5 days ago
The Associated Press reports on one happy consequence of the inevitable shutdown of the Philae lander, after its incredible landing on Rosetta: the team that was in control of the lander here on earth finally gets to take a well-deserved break, after four nearly sleepless days and nights. It seems unlikely -- though it's not impossible -- that Philae will get enough solar energy to briefly wake up again; its bouncy landing and harpoon malfunction mean that the craft is in shadow rather than the sunlight that it was hoped to bask in. From CNN: Originally, it was supposed to have seven hours of light per comet day -- which lasts just 12.4 hours. Now it is exposed only 1.5 hours a day. That's likely not enough to juice up Philae's rechargeable secondary battery, ESA said. There is one last hope. "Mission controllers sent commands to rotate the lander's main body, to which the solar panels are fixed," ESA says in on its blog. "This may have exposed more panel area to sunlight."
88 comments | about a week ago
schwit1 writes There's no easy way to say this: You're eating too much chocolate, all of you. And it's getting so out of hand that the world could be headed towards a potentially disastrous (if you love chocolate) scenario if it doesn't stop. ... Chocolate deficits, whereby farmers produce less cocoa than the world eats, are becoming the norm. Already, we are in the midst of what could be the longest streak of consecutive chocolate deficits in more than 50 years. It also looks like deficits aren't just carrying over from year-to-year—the industry expects them to grow. Last year, the world ate roughly 70,000 metric tons more cocoa than it produced. By 2020, the two chocolate-makers warn that that number could swell to 1 million metric tons, a more than 14-fold increase; by 2030, they think the deficit could reach 2 million metric tons.
322 comments | about a week ago
rossgneumann writes Soon, it's very possible that when you say something like "you have better odds of being struck by lightning," that won't necessarily mean it's all that rare. And there's a good chance that you'll be able to tell that person (roughly) what the odds of that happening are. Research published this week in Nature provides an equation that is reasonably accurate at mathematically predicting lightning strikes. From the article: "There's not a whole lot of noise in Romps's estimates: CAPE [Convective Available Potential Energy] is something that can be predicted out fairly easily: "All [models] in our ensemble predict that [the United State's] mean CAPE will increase over the 21st century, with a mean increase of 11.2 percent per degree Celsius of global warming," he wrote. "Overall, the [models] predict a ~50 percent increase in the rate of lightning strikes in the United States over the 21st century."
41 comments | about a week ago
KentuckyFC writes During the Chinese New Year earlier this year, some 3.6 billion people traveled across China making it the largest seasonal migration on Earth. These kinds of mass movements have always been hard to study in detail. But the Chinese web services company Baidu has managed it using a mapping app that tracked the location of 200 million smartphone users during the New Year period. The latest analysis of this data shows just how vast this mass migration is. For example, over 2 million people left the Guandong province of China and returned just a few days later--that's equivalent to the entire population of Chicago upping sticks. The work shows how easy it is to track the movement of large numbers of people with current technology--assuming they are willing to allow their data to be used in this way.
48 comments | about two weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes Justin Gillis writes in the NYT that Denmark is pursuing the world's most ambitious policy against climate change, aiming to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well. The trouble is that while renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed, as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day. Conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, are becoming uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. With their prime assets throwing off less cash, electricity suppliers in Germany and Denmark have applied to shut down a slew of newly unprofitable power plants, but nervous governments are resisting, afraid of being caught short on some cold winter's night with little wind. "We are really worried about this situation," says Anders Stouge, the deputy director general of the Danish Energy Association. "If we don't do something, we will in the future face higher and higher risks of blackouts."
Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago. But according to Gillis, the political risks of the situation also ought to be obvious to the greens. The minute any European country — or an ambitious American state, like California — has a blackout attributable to the push for renewables, public support for the transition could weaken drastically. Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, says he is tempted by a market approach: real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.
485 comments | about two weeks ago
sciencehabit writes: The magma fueling the volcanoes of Hawaii and Yellowstone National Park pipes up from deep inside the planet. Scientists have struggled to understand why there are hot spots there, so far from the grinding tectonic plate boundaries at which volcanoes normally appear. New research chalks the mystery up to 'dark magma': deep underground pockets of red-hot molten rock that siphon energy from Earth's core. If the team is right, its work could illuminate a key part of Earth's geology. These plumes are one of the most important things to understand because the movement of heat powers many processes on the planet. For one, Earth's magnetic field depends on how the core spins and flows inside the planet. As a result, the way heat flows from the core to the mantle could potentially affect the way Earth's magnetic field evolves over time.
77 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: After more than 10 years travelling, the Rosetta mission will take its next, momentous step by landing the Philae probe on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko tomorrow. How f!@#$%ing cool is that?! Follow the landing live using the webcast, blog, or Twitter feed. (Keep in mind there's a 28-minute delay due to the time it takes the radio signals to reach Earth). Here's the scheduling info: "For the primary landing scenario, targeting Site J, Rosetta will release Philae at 08:35 GMT/09:35 CET at a distance of 22.5 km from the center of the comet, landing about seven hours later. The one-way signal travel time between Rosetta and Earth on 12 November is 28 minutes 20 seconds, meaning that confirmation of the landing will arrive at Earth ground stations at around 16:00 GMT/17:00 CET. If a decision is made to use the backup Site C, separation will occur at 13:04 GMT/14:04 CET, 12.5 km from the center of the comet. Landing will occur about four hours later, with confirmation on Earth at around 17:30 GMT/18:30 CET. The timings are subject to uncertainties of several minutes."
74 comments | about two weeks ago
TaleSlinger (3080869) writes Scientists following two different lines of evidence have just published research [Here's the abstract to the paywalled Science paper] that may help resolve "Darwin's dilemma," a mystery that plagued the father of evolution until his death more than a century ago. Life appeared when the earth was tens of millions of years old, but evolution didn't go into high gear until the "Cambrian Explosion", nearly a billion years later. The two papers propose complementary theories that help explain this. The first suggests that scientists have long overestimated the amount of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere in the pre-Cambrian era just before the "explosion." The second suggests suggests that very dramatic changes driven by the tectonic breakup of the so-called "supercontinents" of the pre-Cambrian era could have caused an extraordinary leap in oxygen levels of both the ancient oceans and the earth's atmosphere. These two studies fit neatly together, suggesting that a world deprived of oxygen could have changed relatively quickly into an incubator for new life in shallow ponds spread across the continents and fed by waters rich in nutrients. Perhaps that set the stage for the explosion, which may have been five times the evolutionary rate seen today.
78 comments | about two weeks ago
superboj sends an article written after its author investigated the Mars One Project for over a year. Even though 200,000 people have (supposedly) signed up as potential volunteers on a one-way trip to Mars, there are still frightfully few details about how the mission will be accomplished. From the article: [Astronaut Chris Hadfield] says that Mars One fails at even the most basic starting point of any manned space mission: If there are no specifications for the craft that will carry the crew, if you don’t know the very dimensions of the capsule they will be traveling in, you can’t begin to select the people who will be living and working inside of it. "I really counsel every single one of the people who is interested in Mars One, whenever they ask me about it, to start asking the hard questions now. I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth. I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things." The author concludes that the Mars One Project is "...at best, an amazingly hubristic fantasy: an absolute faith in the free market, in technology, in the media, in money, to be able to somehow, magically, do what thousands of highly qualified people in government agencies have so far not yet been able to do over decades of diligently trying, making slow headway through individually hard-won breakthroughs, working in relative anonymity pursuing their life’s work."
246 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes Hundreds of small earthquakes have been gaining in strength in northwestern Nevada. The Nevada region bordering California and Oregon was hit by 18 quakes in less than 24 hours, with magnitudes measuring from 2.7 to 4.5. According to CNN: "This does not necessarily mean a big one will come, state seismologists said, but they added that it's good to be prepared, just in case. Seismologists refer to such quake groupings as swarms, and the U.S. Geological Survey has detected them regularly. They can produce thousands of small tremors."
65 comments | about two weeks ago
Lasrick writes A surprising report from the Pentagon last month places climate change squarely among the seemingly endless concerns of the US military. Although a Wall Street Journal editorial misrepresented the report in an editorial (subtitled 'Hagel wants to retool the military to stop glaciers from melting'), the report itself is straightforward and addresses practical military issues such as land management of bases and training facilities. "So, this plan is not really about mobilizing against melting glaciers; it's more like making sure our ships have viable facilities from which to launch bombs against ISIS. And the report doesn't just focus on home, though. It casts a wider eye towards how a changing climate will affect defense missions in the future."
163 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes According to observations made by NASA and ESA orbiters, the extremely close flyby of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring to Mars was accompanied by a meteor shower larger than any seen on Earth. NASA said that dust from Comet Siding Spring vaporized high up in the Martian atmosphere, producing "an impressive meteor shower." An observer on Mars surface might have seen thousands of shooting stars per hour. "This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast-moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions," Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, said in the statement.
48 comments | about two weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes Drivers across America are rejoicing at falling gasoline prices as pumps across the country dip below $3 a gallon. According to Sharon E. Burke while it's nice to get the break at the gas pump and the economic benefits of an energy boom at home, the national security price of oil remains high and the United States should be doing everything it can to diversify global energy suppliers. Ultimately, the only way to solve our long term energy problem is to make a sustained, long-term investment in the alternatives to petroleum. But October saw a 52 percent jump in Jeep SUV sales and a 36 percent rise in Ram trucks while some hybrid and electric vehicle sales fell at the same time. "This is like putting a Big Mac in front of people who need to diet or watch their cholesterol," says Anthony Perl. "Some people might have the willpower to stick with their program, and some people will wait until their first heart attack before committing to a diet—but if we do that at a planetary scale it will be pretty traumatic."
Nicholas St. Fleur writes at The Atlantic that low oil prices may also undermine the message from the UN's climate panel. The price drop comes after the UN declared earlier this week that fossil fuel emissions must drop to zero by the end of the century in order to keep global temperatures in check. "I don't think people will see the urgency of dealing with fossil fuels today," says Perl. Falling oil prices may also deter businesses from switching to energy-saving technology, as a 2006 study in the Energy Journal suggested. Saving several pennies at the pump, Perl says, may tempt Americans away from actions that can lead to a sustainable, post-carbon future.
334 comments | about two weeks ago