Jun 2011

The Countdown: 6/16/2011


Posting in the dark tonight. The rest of my house is asleep, there’s a huge storm rolling into DC, and I’m not sure how long my power/internet will be on for.. Hopefully long enough to get through…

3… We’ll have more on the Dawn mission as it approaches Vesta. For now we’ll have to live with this fantastic video of Vesta spinning under Dawn on its approach. For those aren’t familiar with Vesta, it’s the 2nd-biggest object in the asteroid belt. It’s so big, we think we have chunks of it here on Earth that rained down after an impact carved a giant crater on Vesta. It’s so big… it used to be a planet! For the Pluto lovers out there, it’s not the only “object formerly known as a planet” as Vesta shares a similar history. More on this object (and its mission) over the next few months. For now, it’s enough to know it’s a big ‘un…

2… During a snowball Earth event, the whole planet is covered in glaciers. That global glacier coverage is thought to slow down the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the oceans…. until enough carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere to warm the planet and melt the ice. At that point, a global ocean lies under an atmosphere with enormous carbon dioxide concentrations, leading to deposition of massive carbonate rocks (which form from dissolved forms of carbon dioxide). Well, new research in Earth and Planetary Science Letters has uncovered lots of tiny fossils in these cap carbonates, suggesting a quick recovery of the biosphere from the deep freeze (or a lack of a downturn at all), and opening up extremely exciting new research directions…

1… There are hints that the Sun may be on its way to a very quiescent decade. A report at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division (see why we use acronyms?) points to a few separate lines of evidence that this may be the case. We should wait until the paper on this comes out in print before making any decisions on this… but if true, this story could have big impacts on a variety of things, including satellite communications, space exploration, and, yes, climate change. It won’t save us from ourselves, and it won’t cause a little ice age, but an extended solar minimum could temporarily offset *some* of our greenhouse gas emissions and buy us a *little* time to get our act together. (But remember, whether or not this will even happen is far from a certainty.) The effects on satellite communications (which can be interrupted by solar flares) and interplanetary missions (which can be threatened by solar flares) are more direct. Still, if these predictions hold up, I’d welcome them as good news…

LAUNCH! (already… ;-) )

S. Domagal-Goldman Posted by
S. Domagal-Goldman
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  • http://www.facebook.com/ Fleta

    Your asnewr lifts the intelligence of the debate.

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