Discovery of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere could be sign of life

James Clerk Maxwell Telescope…1 of 2 used to detect phosphine on Venus

With phosphine in mind, an international team of researchers used two ground-based telescopes — the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile — to search for any possible signatures of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere. Sure enough, they found the gas at a concentration of five to 20 parts per billion in the atmosphere. That’s a lot when you compare it to how much is found on Earth, where the gas is concentrated in parts per trillion and parts per quadrillion. “That is all very much evidence pushing towards this exotic explanation of something replenishing it and something making it at large quantities,” says Clara Sousa-Silva…

If the phosphine detection is confirmed, then people will set to work figuring out where it’s coming from. It may turn out that life isn’t even the best explanation. The phosphine may have been found in clouds with moderate temperatures, but the area is still a ghastly place for life to survive, even for the hardiest of microorganisms. “There’s nothing definitive saying it is biology,” Rakesh Mogul, a biological chemist at California State Polytechnic University focusing on extreme microbial life, who is not involved in the study, tells The Verge. “There’s still a lot of unknowns. And it’s nice to put biology as the answer, but really, as scientists, we need to back it up and make sure we exhaustively study all the other possibilities.”

Nice to see scientists in charge of this information gathering and analysis. Imagine the hullabaloo if our politicians had authority over this research.

NASA’s Juno Probe Just Sent Us Photos of Jupiter Unlike Anything Before

Click to enlarge

Juno Swirls

Roughly the size of a basketball court, NASA’s Juno probe departed in 2011, hurtled through space for five years and finally made itself comfortable in Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016.

Now, at about 415 million miles from Earth, it has made its fifth close flyby of the Gas Giant and the images it sent home are breathtaking

So far, they’ve discovered what Jupiter’s poles look like for the first time and are continuing to study the swirling clouds and storms covering the planet’s atmosphere (it’s thought they might be linked to complicated currents from the planet’s moon, Io)…

Traveling 129,000 miles per hour, Juno itself will never get closer than 2,700 miles from the cloud tops. Though that seems far, the data from the probe has already allowed scientists to rewrite what they thought they knew about giant planets and, possibly, the origins of our entire solar system.

No space travel available for cranky old geeks like me; so, photos like these are the next best thing. That and the creative minds of folks making movies with great CGI, nowadays.

Scientists find 4 new ozone-destroying chemicals in atmosphere

Four new man-made gases are helping deplete the ozone layer, researchers from the University of East Anglia, in England, claim in a new study — the details of which were recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“Our research has shown four gases that were not around in the atmosphere at all until the 1960s which suggests they are man-made,” lead researcher Dr. Johannes said in a news release.

The four gasses are chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases, which were invented in 1920s for use in refrigeration and aerosol sprays. These types of gases have been banned globally since 2010, and regulated since the 1980s, but loopholes still exist.

“CFCs are the main cause of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica,” the researchers write.

Scientists say they’re unsure of where these new gases are coming from. “Possible sources include feedstock chemicals for insecticide production and solvents for cleaning electronic components,” the study’s authors surmise.

The study claims the new chemicals break down very slowly, so even if emissions are curbed, these gases are likely to stick around in Earth’s atmosphere — eating at the ozone — for several decades.

The ozone layer sits in the lower portion of the stratosphere, some 12 to 19 miles above Earth’s surface, and blocks roughly 97 percent of all the sun’s ultra violent rays — rays that could otherwise prove biologically harmful for animal and plant life.

Not so’s you’d notice if you’re making money from their production or use. Of course.

Stanford University bans smoking – and the sale of tobacco

One of the world’s top universities is taking a smoking ban a step further this week, as Stanford University prohibits the sale of tobacco as well as smoking on campus.

Campus shops at the Californian university will have to end the sale of all tobacco products from 1 March…

The university says allowing tobacco sales is “inconsistent” with its work on promoting health.

It means that retail outlets, such as the students’ union and a petrol station, will have to stop selling tobacco – including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

This high-profile US university, which has been a launch pad for many Silicon Valley industries, is the latest US university to tighten its prohibitions on smoking.

The university, in California’s Bay Area, has nearly 700 buildings and occupies more than 8,000 acres. It regularly appears in the top fives of global university league tables…

The university is an advocate for the health and well-being of its entire community, and tobacco sales are inconsistent with our many programmes that support healthy habits and behaviours,” said assistant vice president, Susan Weinstein.


Ringside with Titan and Dione

Orbiting in the plane of Saturn’s rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the middle of this Cassini snapshot from May of last year. The scene features Titan, largest, and Dione, third largest moon of Saturn. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet’s cloud tops at the bottom of the frame. Pale Dione is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring. Dione is seen through Titan’s atmospheric haze. At 5,150 kilometers across, Titan is about 2.3 million kilometers from Cassini, while Dione is 3.2 million kilometers away.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

If you’d like to try a sample issue of Paws & Claws, Ursarodinia’s weekly newsletter – email her at subject line: Paws and Claws sample, ursarodinia[@] – without the brackets. I highly recommend it for humor, science, earthy sex, humor, politics – and did I mention humor?

Three years of research flights from pole-to-pole constructs first global picture of greenhouse gases

A three-year series of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic has successfully produced an unprecedented portrait of greenhouse gases and particles in the atmosphere…

The far-reaching field project, a collaboration including scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography…known as HIPPO, is enabling researchers to generate the first detailed mapping of the global distribution of gases and particles that affect Earth’s climate.

The series of flights…mark an important milestone as scientists work toward targeting both the sources of greenhouse gases and the natural processes that draw the gases back out of the atmosphere.

“Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask,” says Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and one of the project’s principal investigators. “Finally, HIPPO is giving us a clear view of what’s really out there…”

The flights have helped scientists compile extraordinary detail about the atmosphere. The research team has studied air samples at different latitudes during various seasons from altitudes of 500 feet above Earth’s surface up to as high as 45,000 feet into the lower stratosphere…

Continue reading

NASA climate forecasting is adding salt

Global differences between evaporation and precipitation

Salt is essential to human life. Most people don’t know, however, that salt — in a form nearly the same as the simple table variety — is just as essential to Earth’s ocean, serving as a critical driver of key ocean processes. While ancient Greek soothsayers believed they could foretell the future by reading the patterns in sprinkled salt, today’s scientists have learned that they can indeed harness this invaluable mineral to foresee the future — of Earth’s climate.

The oracles of modern climate science are the computer models used to forecast climate change. These models, which rely on a myriad of data from many sources, are effective in predicting many climate variables, such as global temperatures. Yet data for some pieces of the climate puzzle have been scarce, including the concentration of dissolved sea salt at the surface of the world’s ocean, commonly called ocean surface salinity, subjecting the models to varying margins of error. This salinity is a key indicator of how Earth’s freshwater moves between the ocean, land and atmosphere.

Enter Aquarius, a new NASA salinity-measurement instrument slated for launch in June 2011 aboard the SAC-D spacecraft built by Argentina’s CONAE. Aquarius’ high-tech, salt-seeking sensors will make comprehensive measurements of ocean surface salinity with the precision needed to help researchers better determine how Earth’s ocean interacts with the atmosphere to influence climate. It’s a mission that promises to be, to quote the old saying, “worth its salt…”

Density-driven ocean circulation, according to Gary Lagerloef, is controlled as much by salinity as by ocean temperature. Sea salt makes up only 3.5 percent of the world’s ocean, but its relatively small presence reaps huge consequences.

Salinity influences the very motion of the ocean and the temperature of seawater, because the concentration of sea salt in the ocean’s surface mixed layer — the portion of the ocean that is actively exchanging water and heat with Earth’s atmosphere — is a critical driver of these ocean processes. It’s the missing variable in understanding the link between the water cycle and ocean circulation. Specifically, it’s an essential metric to modeling precipitation and evaporation…

Until now, researchers had taken ocean salinity measurements from aboard ships, buoys and aircraft – but they’d done so using a wide range of methods across assorted sampling areas and over inconsistent times from one season to another. Because of the sparse and intermittent nature of these salinity observations, researchers have not been able to fine-tune models to obtain a true global picture of how ocean surface salinity is influencing the ocean. Aquarius promises to resolve these deficiencies, seeing changes in ocean surface salinity consistently across space and time and mapping the entire ice-free ocean every seven days for at least three years.

RTFA. The advance work has been accomplished, sensors and data collection have been tuned. Now the task of collecting data will begin with the launch of Aquarius, this month.

Unprecedented ozone depletion over Arctic this spring

The depletion of the ozone layer shielding Earth from damaging ultraviolet rays has reached an unprecedented low over the Arctic this spring because of harmful chemicals and a cold winter…

The Earth’s fragile ozone layer in the Arctic region has suffered a loss of about 40 per cent from the start of winter until late March, exceeding the previous seasonal loss of about 30 per cent, the World Meteorological Organization said.

The Geneva-based agency blamed the loss on a buildup of ozone-eating chemicals once widely used as coolants and fire retardants in a variety of appliances and on very cold temperatures in the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere…

This year the Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level, but colder in the stratosphere than normal Arctic winters. U.N. officials say the latest losses — unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected — were detected in observations from the ground and from balloons and satellites over the Arctic…

The loss comes despite the U.N. ozone treaty, known as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which has resulted in cutbacks in ozone-damaging chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons, halons and other, that were used in the making of refrigerators, air conditioners, fire extinguishers and even hairspray.

The 196-nation ozone treaty encourages industries to use replacement chemicals less damaging to ozone, the atmospheric layer that helps protect against the sun’s most harmful rays.

But because these compounds have long atmospheric lifetimes, it takes decades for their concentrations to subside to pre-1980 levels as was agreed in the Montreal Protocol.

U.N. officials project the ozone layer outside the polar regions will recover to pre-1980 levels sometime between 2030 and 2040.

I hope the skeptics dedicated to denial of any human-caused climate or meteorological change spend more time sunbathing. Especially in northern latitudes. They should get what they deserve.

What involvement I maintain with the automotive world and transport technology, means I still get to hear the recurrent whine about inefficiencies in the air conditioning of their vehicles because CFCs aren’t legally available anymore.

The values and priorities of self-centered pundits and science denialists never ceases to amaze.

Company launches using giant microwaves to lock carbon in charcoal

Carbonscape’s first sample

Giant microwave ovens that can “cook” wood into charcoal could become our best tool in the fight against global warming, according to a leading British climate scientist.

Chris Turney, a professor of geography at the University of Exeter, said that by burying the charcoal produced from microwaved wood, the carbon dioxide absorbed by a tree as it grows can remain safely locked away for thousands of years. The technique could take out billions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

Fast-growing trees such as pine could be “farmed” to act specifically as carbon traps — microwaved, buried and replaced with a fresh crop to do the same thing again.

{I’d suggest hybrid poplar would do a better job]

Turney has built a 5m-long prototype of his microwave, which fixes a tonne of CO2 for $65. He plans to launch his company, Carbonscape, in the UK this month to build the next generation of the machine, which he hopes will process more wood and cut costs further.

Continue reading