Is the mystery of missing sunspots resolved?

Heliosiesmic map of the solar interior

The sun is in the pits of a century-class solar minimum, and sunspots have been puzzlingly scarce for more than two years. Now, for the first time, solar physicists might understand why.

At an American Astronomical Society press conference in Boulder, Colorado, researchers announced that a jet stream deep inside the sun is migrating slower than usual through the star’s interior, giving rise to the current lack of sunspots.

Rachel Howe and Frank Hill of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona, used a technique called helioseismology to detect and track the jet stream down to depths of 7,000 km below the surface of the sun. The sun generates new jet streams near its poles every 11 years, they explained to a room full of reporters and fellow scientists. The streams migrate slowly from the poles to the equator and when a jet stream reaches the critical latitude of 22 degrees, new-cycle sunspots begin to appear.

Howe and Hill found that the stream associated with the next solar cycle has moved sluggishly, taking three years to cover a 10 degree range in latitude compared to only two years for the previous solar cycle.

The jet stream is now, finally, reaching the critical latitude, heralding a return of solar activity in the months and years ahead.

All the reactionary intellectual-dwarf skeptics who have blamed the absence of sunspots for everything from global non-warming to Obama’s election and diminished political responsibility for bigotry in America – will now have to find a new excuse.

These cretins understand geological [and solar] time as well as Ted Stevens understands the Internet.

Eureka! Not the poem – the solar power tower

The solar arm of Spanish renewable energy and engineering giant Abengoa is already one of the few companies in the world with a working solar power tower — a technology that uses dozens of concentrating heliostats (made of glass or mirrors) that focus sunlight onto a tall central tower. And this morning Abengoa is showing off a next-gen version of the solar power tower, dubbed Eureka, that uses a receiver (the sunlight collection point in the tower) that can achieve much higher temperatures. Abengoa says higher temperatures make the system more efficient, meaning a lower cost of power generation, less land needed and a lower cost of the overall system.

The next-gen project is experimental at this point, covering 16,000 square feet, and producing 2 MW with 35 heliostats and a 164-foot tower. One of Abengoa’s other solar power towers produces 11 MW with 624 heliostats and a 377-foot tower. But Abengoa says that it is “the first high-temperature solar tower in Europe.”

Way cool, which means it’s very hot – of course. I have no experience with this variation on the theme of letting ol’ Sol provide the energy for heating a liquid to steam and driving a generator. But, it certainly seems to be working just fine for these folks in Spain.

The time to completion, the absence of regulations [jive and otherwise] attendant upon nuclear power generation certainly makes this technology a lot more encouraging.

Thanks to Katie Fehrenbacher

Another frugal, nimble little car we can’t buy in the U.S.

The new iQ3, which Toyota announced at the Geneva Motor Show in March, is now on sale in the UK. The iQ cubed adds a 98 bhp 1.33-liter engine with Toyota Optimal Drive to the small car line up and the start-stop system helps the iQ3 get CO2 emissions down to 113g/km.

On the UK’s combined cycle, the most efficient iQ3, the manual with a six-speed gearbox, gets 49 mpg (U.S.). Even with a Multidrive CVT transmission, the iQ3 can achieve 46 mpg (U.S.) and CO2 emissions of just 120 g/km…The manual starts at £11,495 while the Multidrive begins at £12,495. If you have more money to spend, four trims are offered that add things like chrome (yay! chrome!) and Bluetooth connectivity.

Toyota’s iQ range is extended for the first time since launch with the introduction to the line-up of a 1.33-litre engine. The highly efficient lightweight unit, already successfully deployed in Auris, Yaris and Urban Cruiser is offered exclusively in the new iQ3 model…

This achievement is not at the expense of performance. The engine develops a maximum 98bhp at 6,000rpm and peak torque of 125Nm at 4,400rpm. Nought to 62mph can be achieved in 11.8 seconds (11.6 with Multidrive) and top speed is 106mph. This underlines the fact that iQ is more than just a city runabout, giving a strong, stable and enjoyable drive at motorway speeds.

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Check mom’s freezer! Toll House cookie dough enhanced with E.coli

Federal health officials warned consumers not to eat raw or baked prepackaged Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough because of E.coli infection risks.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state regulators are investigating a nationwide E.coli outbreak possibly linked to the Nestle USA’s Toll House products. The company voluntarily recalled the products today.

The FDA reported that since March, the government has received 66 reports of illness in 28 states, and that 25 people were hospitalized, including seven with a severe complication. The FDA said no one had died.

Nestle USA said it hasn’t found the E.coli strain implicated in the outbreak — E.coli O157:H7 — but the company recalled the products after the FDA told it about the investigation. Nestle said the products involved include all Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products, ranging from chocolate-chip bars to tubs of gingerbread cookie dough.

Is nothing sacred? Don’t we have a constitutional right to eat raw cookie dough?

And get sick?

Flashing cellphone dress. Uh-huh.

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova presented a prototype dress to reporters that is designed to light up when the wearer’s mobile telephone rings.

British fashion student Georgie Davis dreamed up the knee-length sleeveless white dress as part of a school project with mobile phone-maker Sony Ericsson to figure out ways of incorporating new technology into fashion.

Davis said the dress is designed to eventually be connected to the wearer’s phone by Bluetooth wireless technology, so she can be alerted to a call even in noisiest of places.

When you’re in a pub or a bar, you can never, ever hear your phone,” 20-year-old Davis told Reuters on Wednesday.

The right shoulder of the dress is embellished with translucent white scales that move and light up.

I’ll run right out and get one for my wife. And she’ll smack me upside the head.

Senate passes a resolution apologizing for slavery

The U.S. Senate has approved a fiercely worded resolution that attempts to formally apologize for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery” of African-Americans.

The unanimous voice vote came five months after Barack Obama became the first black U.S. president, and ahead of the June 19 “Juneteenth” celebration of the emancipation of African-Americans at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Approval by the House of Representatives, which could come as early as next week, would make it the first time the entire Congress has formally apologized on behalf of the American people for one of the most grievous wrongs in U.S. history.

The bill, which doesn’t require Obama’s signature, states that Congress “acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws” that enshrined racial segregation at the state and local level in the nation well into the 1960s.

And Congress “apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.”

It also recommits lawmakers “to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society…”

And Harkin said a “fitting ceremony” to mark final passage would occur in early July. Supporters hope Obama will attend the event.

“Overdue” hardly defines my feelings. Last month I celebrated the 50th anniversary of my first overt political act challenging the American status quo. Getting into a VW Microbus with three of my friends from the streets of industrial New England, we traveled with the college students who owned the camper down to a town in Maryland to deliberately break the law of the land by sitting down at a drugstore counter and ordering Coca-Colas.

We were less than 50 miles from Congress and the reason we violated the law is that we were a “mixed” group – Black and white.

That’s the America I grew up in. A lot has changed. A lot hasn’t. Including the jive excuses from people who will whine about this resolution. They still are ignorant racist bastards as far as I’m concerned.

Oregon Bunny Lady busted again!

You should see her wiggle her nose

Washington County’s “Bunny Lady” is back in the hutch after violating a court order banning her from owning animals for five years.

Miriam Sakewitz, 47, was arrested Tuesday at a hotel in the Portland suburb of Tigard after an employee reported finding rabbits hopping around in her room.

Problems for Sakewitz started in October 2006 when police in Hillsboro, about 15 miles west of Portland, found and confiscated nearly 250 rabbits in her home, including about 100 dead ones in freezers and refrigerators.

Police said she broke into the facility where the survivors were being cared for in January 2007 and stole most of them back. Authorities found her a few days later in Chehalis, Wash., with eight live rabbits and two dead ones in her car. Another 130 rabbits were recovered at a nearby horse farm.

Sakewitz was sentenced in April 2007 to five years probation and was banned from owning or controlling animals. She also was told not to go within 100 yards of a rabbit…

Sakewitz was in custody Wednesday, and Wolf said he did not know if she had an attorney. She was to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon on animal neglect charges.

Make appropriate Twilight Zone theme noises here.

Best Drinking Water in the Nation? Macon, Georgia

Good golly, Miss Molly!

Macon’s drinking water has been judged best in the country in an annual contest.

Judges at the annual meeting of the American Water Works
Association in San Diego gave the honor to Macon this week in a
competition that’s similar to wine tasting.

Macon qualified for the national competition by winning top
honors in Georgia during last summer’s competition. The city’s
water authority sent water samples to San Diego for judging.

The water is regular county water judged at room temperature.

Lakeway, S.C., finished second and Silverdale, Wash., was third.

Some stories are as exciting as watching paint dry. You’re welcome. Since I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Macon, the story interested me.

They did talk about other things as well:
Climate change threatens water supplies

You can click the pic of Little Richard to hear him sing the classic.