Category Archives: Science News

North Korea tests a bomb

Obviously, I can’t say anything about what NK did. You can get as much on the news as I can. However, we should talk about how a Nuclear weapon and atomic bomb are done.

It isn’t as simple as stealing a bunch of “radioactive” materials and … boom! That is the good, ole fashioned, dirty bomb.


Frankly, nails do more damage. We can argue, but I’d win. I don’t feel like it today. Any bomb is bad, a “Dirty bomb” isn’t as bad as blowing people’s limbs off.

The reasonable fear we have is from Fission and Fusion bombs. Fission being the simpler, or Atomic Bomb. One simply holds two near-critical masses of Uranium close together and the critical mass generates heat. Hold it close enough, long enough, you have a bomb. (the techniques are well established, but very difficult to master.)


The United States, of course, has mastered them.

NK is claiming it produced a Thermo-Nuclear event. This means it heated Tritium, or Deuterium Tritium mix, to fusion temperatures. A Fusion bomb can be much larger than a fission bomb. Thousands of times larger. Or, they found a cool word in the dictionary, that they thought was a synonym for Atomic Bomb, and decided to use it.

Look ignorance is on both sides. We (US, SK, and China reported numbers) measure nuclear events with a seismic detector. An American reporter announced this reported event as an earthquake detected near the test site… I’m sure he can do traffic and weather together every hour, so he’s better than 90% of the public, but most people are ignorant of nuclear matters.


I’m not sure the NK “reporter” is much better.

Sure, a bomb in the hands of a crazy person is scary. NK is a scary place. Still, this wasn’t anything new or particularly interesting. Imperious Leader just figured that he had been out of the news too long. He needed to break the ISIS ISIS ISIS refrain. Heck, he didn’t know that Obama had already pivoted back to Gun Control. I doubt he’ll get as much time on the 6 pm news as Terry McAuliffe, my anti-gun governor.


Maybe you should focus on Knife control.–and-seaport/2016/01/04/f062e9ca-b2ea-11e5-9388-466021d971de_story.html



Weather and Global Warming – Heavy Clouds but, No Rain

global_warming-758157We all want to be proven right. We want to argue with someone and put the evidence in their face. To paraphrase an argument I had on Facebook the other day, over Global Warming.

AGW: “It is December and Warm! Clearly Global warming!”

Science: “It has been this warm in December many times.”

AGW: “But more heat in a system means more bad weather!”

Science: “Cool Magic system you’ve created there. Non-science.”

Of course, this is ironic. Heavy rain does not mean they get their proof of global warming. Unseasonal heavy rain is just that, unseasonal heavy rain. Unseasonal things happen all the time, seasons are, to mis-quote a famous movie pirate: Weather is more of a guideline, really, than a rule.

Ok, so what if the basic premise is correct. We agree that the temperature is 0.3 to 0.4 degrees C higher than in the 70’s or early 80’s. Is the weather worse?

Well, lets look at hurricane statistics. We’ll look at the late 70’s and Early 80’s:

1974 Sep LA, 3 3 952 —– Carmen
1975 Sep FL, NW3; I-AL1 3 955 —– Eloise
1976 Aug NY, 1 1 980 —– Belle
1977 Sep LA, 1 1 995 —– Babe
1978 None
1979 Jul LA, 1 1 986 —– Bob
1979 Sep FL, SE2, NE2; GA, 2; SC, 2 2 970 —– David
1979 Sep AL, 3; MS, 3 3 946 —– Frederic
1980 Aug TX, S3 3 945 100 Allen
1981 None
1982 None
1983 Aug TX, N3 3 962 100 Alicia
1984 Sep * NC, 2 2 949 95 Diana

10 Hurricane in 10 years. Compare to current values:

2004 Aug * NC, 1 1 972 70 Alex
2004 Aug FL, SW4, SE1, NE1; SC, 1; NC, 1 4 941 130 Charley
2004 Aug SC, 1 1 985 65 Gaston
2004 Sep FL, SE2, SW1 2 960 90 Frances
2004 Sep AL, 3; FL, NW3 3 946 105 Ivan
2004 Sep FL, SE3, SW1, NW1 3 950 105 Jeanne
2005 Jul LA, 1 1 991 65 Cindy
2005 Jul FL, NW3; I-AL 1 3 946 105 Dennis
2005 Aug FL, SE1, SW1; LA, 3; MS, 3; AL, 1 3 920 110 Katrina
2005 Sep * NC, 1 1 982 65 Ophelia
2005 Sep FL, SW1; LA, 3; TX, N2 3 937 100 Rita
2005 Oct FL, SW3; FL, SE2 3 950 105 Wilma
2006 None
2007 Sep TX, N1; LA, 1 1 985 80 Humberto
2008 Jul TX, S1 1 967 75 Dolly
2008 Sep LA, 2 2 954 90 Gustav
2008 Sep TX, N2; LA, 1 2 950 95 Ike
2009 None
2010 None
2011 Aug NC, 1 1 952 75 Irene
2012 Aug LA, 1 1 966 70 Isaac
2012 Oct * NY, 1 1 942 65 Sandy
2013 None
2014 Jul NC, 2 2 973 85 Arthur

Wow, 2005 and 2004 were huge. 11 hurricane in 2 years – 20 in 10 years. Hugely more. Of course, had I conveniently started at 2006, there would have been 8 hurricane in 9 years. Slightly less. We had a couple bad years, then things returned to normal.

Weird, so if you change your starting dates to useful numbers, you can completely change your answer? Again, the excitement isn’t that the world has warmed. The argument is that the warming is unusual. We Deniers, believe that the warming is natural, not man-made. Will the warming affect climate? That is an interesting subject, but not a politically useful one.



NASA views

I guess the good news is that NASA is still funding JPL missions to the outer planets. I’m a bit disappointed in their engine selection, some of their mission choices, but overall, it looks like decent return on investment.

This is a view of Pluto. Nothing too exciting, really. There is a certain uniformity in the ice flows that looks artificial, or at least weirdly large-scale crystal formations. Maybe it is just a feature of liquid flow in a very consistent environment. Maybe if we were closer, could get better resolution, we’d see the same pattern going down, showing natural fractal-ization.

So, any point to all this? yes. Choices matter. We do have information on Pluto because NASA has a budget and some will to use it. Most of the money is trapped in bureaucracy, much of the rest goes to Goddard for Earth exploration, but a little goes to JPL for its regular “big mission.”


Getting a nuclear reactor off the ground is still impossible, due to the Greens. A political choice to demonize nuclear power as a way of reducing the spread of nuclear weapons. Weapons are made in laboratories, not reactors. I keep hoping we’ll get sense in the US, but I don’t see much sign of that happening. Without 1) better launch technology or 2) refueling options. There isn’t much hope of a chemical rocket getting good results in the outer system. Too much Delta V to overcome. I’m still betting on a good nuclear reactor and ion drive for future deep-space missions. I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath.

Space Mining

asteroidsCongress Passes the Space Act,411747

Space Mining is now legal.

So, technically, you can go mine your asteroid and bring home the materials for profit. A few small problems:

  1. No spaceship can get to the asteroids right now
  2. No mining ships have even been seriously designed
  3. No fuel depots in space
  4. No customer base for space materials

This is one of those self-squaring circles. Once you have space miners, you’ll need fuel depots, which will need/buy space materials, which it can buy from miners, who it is fueling up to go back ….

Unfortunately, absent A -> B there is not B-> A.

There were some presentations at Dragon Con about this state of affairs and I think they’ll go far. It might take a few years, decades, but I think it will happen. Robotics will lead, robotic miners, water depots. Smelters, metal printers.

The real problem lies in creating a self-sufficient world in orbit. That world can have humans in it, then there will be humans there. We’ll begin to live in space sometime, I hope soon.



Global Warming – Modeling and Measurement

Initial Note: The temperature is measured at present at 0.5 degrees above baseline. The temperature increase from baseline may be caused by many factors, including CO2. Experimental data is needed to verify the models.

We can thank Dr. Hansen for his work disproving the effects of CO2 on global temperature. His work appears to disprove the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory. I understand, that as he has made millions of dollars promoting global warming, he probably doesn’t see this result as publishable.

hansen warming predictions

Figure 1. Hansen’s models of global warming following a steady increase in our production of CO2 (1.5%), a continued production of CO2 at the current (year 1989) rate, and an abrupt halt of producing CO2.

On Figure 1, you can see that Dr. Hansen predicts a large increase in temperature driven directly by the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Temperatures by 2015 are 1.5 degrees above baseline. While the US and Europe have reduced production of CO2 significantly, world production of CO2 remains significantly above year 2000 levels, leading to the top line prediction being the predicted outcome.

hansen warming results

Figure 2. A combination of Figure 1 and current temperature data.

On Figure 2, you can see the current temperature data plotted along with the predictions made in Hansen’s model. It is clear from observation that, with the exception of 1998, the data falls along the lowest line of prediction. 1998 has been explained as a specific Pacific Ocean event, resulting in the hottest year on record.

Conclusions: The model which contained no CO2 forcing more correctly predicted the future than either model which contained CO2 forcing. CO2 forcing does not appear to correctly predict future temperatures.

Further Study: CO2 is known to absorb specific bands of IR light at 2349 cm−1 and at 667 cm−1. Addition of CO2 does increase absorption of heat in the atmosphere at those two wavelengths, however, those wavelengths may be sufficiently filled such that no further addition of CO2 causes added absorption. However, that is just a theory and needs further modeling and experimental data to prove. Alternatively, the current heating may have nothing to do with CO2. The CO2 heating may become significant at some future partial pressure. Again, modeling and testing is needed to quantify this assertion.

Asteroids – Empirical Evidence

Embedded image permalink

Oddly enough, I heard that Asteroids was one of the most popular video games ever. Well, This is a real asteroid. The Rosetta mission is creeping up on it. What can you say? It sure doesn’t look like a planet.

Deeply WTF, ya know? I mean, you can predict “sphere” you can predict a lumpy potato… but this is … um kind of spiral lines like a pull fracture. Squarish craters… I’m baffled.

Remember last week when the sun was perfectly blank? I may have forgotten to post about it, but you all are keeping up with, right? Well, if you missed it, people were wondering if we were about to fall into some super minimum. nah

Now, the activity is mostly equitorial, which is appropriate behavior for the minimum, but there is more energy farther north and south than I’m comfortable with.

This false-color image looks at activity, not to add weird terms, but you can see how the wind is blowing.

Real activity seems to be mostly constrained under 30 degrees (and consistant with solar minimum) but there is a lot of activity all the way up to 60 degrees latitude.

“Thas jus not right.” – Redneck man. (He shows up sometimes) 

So, ya know, we predict and we get smacked sometimes. We keep trying. Pieces of asteroids have been recovered on earth, but the differences between comets, asteroids, and their meteors needs a lot of empirical data. Thanks to the European Space agency for Rosetta, and thanks to NASA for STEREO – which gives us these images.

Physics is Hard – or you don’t know what you think you know.

I got pinged on three interesting Physics Today articles this week.

1)   Focus: Electrons Not the Cause of Charged Grains
2)   Synopsis: Unexpected Impact from Medium-Sized Solar Flare
3)   Synopsis: Asymmetric Reconnections

There are actually interesting connections between these three papers, which only shows how weird my brain works.

1) We don’t actually know why rubbing a balloon on your head makes it charge up. SERIOUSLY. I’d assumed, as most people did, that it was something to do with electrons being pushed around… somehow. Ok, I gave it some serious thought some years ago when I was working lightning and found the theory lacking, but never had a good reason to push back. Raindrops do gather electricity, there are some good experiments to generate a charge.

The Kelvin Water dropper will generate a spark gap  – Wikipedia
 Drawing of a typical setup for the Kelvin Water Dropper

But water itself responds to positive and negative charge.

Seriously, the real effect in a thunderstorm isn’t a bunch of electrons jumping from raindrop to raindrop, but large electric fields generated by alignment of water molecules. So, in general, when talking about climate and 100 year models – people didn’t even have a good model for lightning.

2) Since we’re on the subject of Global Warming. The Human-Caused folks haven’t really dealt with how much influence the sun’s cycles have on the atmosphere. Major increases in ionization from even a relatively small event. I was expecting – around the auroral oval – that we’d see higher levels of heating and ionizing, but this paper seems to indicate strong charging as far south as England (I’d like better numbers here) as well as a significant influence in cloud formation. (At 20 km?) Well, I’ll take their word for it until I see their data.

Source – – gallery of images

3) What it the connection between the two papers? Electron Dynamics

The real problem with electrons is that they interact with everything, so they’re a buggar to study. One long-standing problem is assuming that they are tiny. Electrons are as large as their interaction width, which (according the the scientist at TRIUMF) he’s gotten to a mile wide in a superconductor.

This lets them do all kind of “spooky action at a distance” things, when we assume they can’t be in two places at once. They also generate magnetic fields, which influences group actions. Looking at electrons in space, we can start to see how they interact with magnetic fields, how groups of them interact with each other, etc. Seems easy enough, but it turns out we had it wrong all the time.

SO: In conclusion, Physics is hard. We learn a lot each year, but the hardest part is un-learning what we’re sure we knew last year.

The Future and the Past

We can’t really predict the future. People like to pretend to know the future of 200 – 1000 years, but we can’t predict the rain.

The calving front of Thwaites Ice Shelf looking at the ice below the water's surface as seen from the NASA DC-8 on Oct. 16, 2012. Note how the water acts as a blue filter.

Sometimes we act by the preventative principle – IF IT IS NEW IT IS SCARY!  By this principle, Europe bans GMO products. But frankly, banning stuff that is a small relative cost is easy. How about banning hard stuff, like cars or Killer Robots.

Killer robots

Ok, should be easy to kill this off – I mean, who hasn’t watched Terminator? But lets look at them more reasonably.
Do we want people to go kill people?
1) first off, we have to designate people 1 as good people and people 2 as bad people. If we consider all those people with guns as bad people, then it is no loss to have them kill each other, but honestly, we don’t.

2) good people have to kill. This isn’t easy for the good people and often leaves them with a lifetime of problems.

3) good people might get killed. The bad people don’t lie down and die, they fight back. The people who are willing to shoulder this burden for their communities are some of the best people in society.

4) SO, we should save our good people, design some controllable “Bad” robots, and send them to kill bad people.

Despite the fear-mongers, these are no easier to build than nuclear bombs. But, maybe we are just marking time till the inevitable Cylon war. We don’t know much about this year, we can hardly predict next year, and 100 years is just plain crazy talk.

We can’t predict the future and we don’t know much about the past. As an example, we always KNEW that stonehenge was about 2000 years old and build by immigrants to England from Europe. The earliest inhabitants that were well considered dated from only 2500 bc. The problem I always had was that the structure was too primitive for the civilization that they believed to have built it. By 2000 bc., there was interaction between the immigrant population of England/Ireland and the Grecian Isles. So I don’t see a long term neolithic civilization surviving and prospering. Since it clearly did, there must have been a separate – well founded – civilization which controlled the central parts of England.

A new study drops the date of English habitation to before 8000 bc. A long-term society had a meeting place at Stonehenge for thousands of years. The evidence suggests that they built a wooden structure first, then the outer stones, then the inner stones. There may have been a structure before they planted the posts, but they didn’t dig it into the ground before 3000 bc. The society there lasted nearly 2000 years. You can’t say they didn’t leave any trace, but it sure is hard to read it.

What do you think, in 4,000 years our great^100th grandchildren will say the same about us. “Sure, there are lots of artifacts, like this rusted piece of iron with chairs in it. But what could they possible have used it for? If only they had left proper memory crystals we’d know something about what they thought!” Remember, whatever stenohaline was before they planted posts – that structure predated writing. For all I know, Writing is a flash in the pan, 3000 bc – 3000 ad. Used for 6,000 years out of 60,000 years of language and we’ll never use it again.

Green Religion

This is a German TV show, so you have to read the subtitles…but listen anyway, omg funny. SNL was funny like this once, when it was free to make fun of the government.

This is comedy, of course, but I think they’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. The truth is hilarious, where it isn’t a terrible shame. The important point is that it is only money. What is a few billion here, a trillion there. Who really cares? Well, if you actually, seriously, cared about the environment, then you would be upset.

What you really hate is that the cheapest forms of energy are used by most people in the world. The cheaper the power, the more toxins it puts into the atmosphere. The answer isn’t building more and more expensive forms of energy, but instead, make better and cheaper energy. Coal is cheaper than firewood – if properly distributed and burned in modern plants. We could distribute coal power to Africa and solve a great deal of their health issues in less than a decade. It would also move to solving their farming issues. With actual redistribution of real wealth (food, shelter, health, energy) many of their government problems would go away.  Not all, but that is a different subject.

China’s problem is mostly charcoal, but also cheap oil and bad coal. They need to move to more expensive power, but 50% of their population is still deep in poverty with better food, health care, and shelter, but real energy issues. They use wood/charcoal in their apartments and the coal/oil they burn is 1950’s technology. Moving up from coal will require cheap alternatives that won’t bancrupt the country. Solar won’t do it. (though they’ve tried.) Nuclear is good, but hard to build cheap without safety risks. Natural Gas is a good interim, but they don’t seem to have the reserves. 

Not that it matters what I say (or anyone says) about China. Five guys in black suits will continue making all the decisions about that country – which has the largest population in the world – despite what anyone else wants or thinks. Instead worry about making innexpensive and efficient power supplies available to the world, and hope that all countries use them. Instead, the US is competing with Germany in the Race to the Top. Lets build the most expensive windmill in the world! That will make us the holy church of the Green Religion. what a laugh

The Falcon 9 LANDED!

I grew up in a world where spacecraft touched down on a planet with its legs extended, ready to boost back to the heavens with its crew of intrepid heroes.  Ok, so that world wasn’t actually the real world, but science fiction. Still, it is how I think. Falcon 9 touched down on its little legs in the ocean because they were sure it would screw up and fail. Still, it didn’t. It landed. Ok, landed implicates LAND…not ocean. So, perhaps this is only a 5 on the big boyhood-rocket scale. But, the space shuttle only made a 3. Somewhere, out there, there is a design for a single -stage earth to orbit SSTO, which will work and I will grade it a 7 when I see it. SOMEDAY, Falcon 59 will touch down on the Earth, get refueled, and fly back to orbit. THAT, my friends and neighbors, would be a 10.