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Science Saturday
Author: Will in Chicago    Date: 2012-11-10 11:30:07

In the focus on the election, there are some important science stories that I thought I would look at today. Even as the election becomes a memory, many Americans are still facing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. This disaster has focused much attention on the issue of global climate change which was seldom discussed during the campaign season.

It turns out that climate expert Bill McKibben and 350.org are doing a tour to talk about climate change:

From Common Dreams:

Bill McKibben & 350.org Kick-Off Nationwide “Do The Math” Tour to Connect Extreme Weather, Climate Change and the Fossil Fuel Industry
Tour will Launch a New Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign

SEATTLE - November 6 - As the East Coast continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, leading environmentalist Bill McKibben and the global climate campaign 350.org are kicking off a 21-city nationwide Do the Math tour that will connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry.

"It's time to start holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the wholesale damage they're doing to our planet," said McKibben. "If Sandy showed us anything, it's that the hour is late and the need is urgent--but the fossil fuel industry has terrified our politicians and the result has been two decades of inaction. We need that to change."

McKibben is the writer of the article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math that ran in Rolling Stone magazine this summer.

We also saw a new report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research that predicts that global climate change is likely to skew towards the most extreme range of current predictions.

My hope is that we will see serious discussion on trying to limit the damage of climate change. When people as pro-business as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg call for addressing climate change, it is a sign that the global climate change deniers are truly an outlier -- although a dangerous one.

Future warming likely to be on high side of climate projections, analysis finds
November 08, 2012

BOULDER—Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature are likely to prove more accurate than those showing a lesser rise, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings, published in this week’s issue of Science, could provide a breakthrough in the longstanding quest to narrow the range of global warming expected in coming decades and beyond.

NCAR scientists John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth, who co-authored the study, reached their conclusions by analyzing how well sophisticated climate models reproduce observed relative humidity in the tropics and subtropics.

The climate models that most accurately captured these complex moisture processes and associated clouds, which have a major influence on global climate, were also the ones that showed the greatest amounts of warming as society emits more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

“There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide,” Fasullo says. “Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”

The research was funded by NASA.

Once again, NASA shows how it is a government program that actually delivers us knowledge that we can use here on Earth. There is also some news from space, which is quite interesting. Astronomers have found a world, some seven times more massive than Earth, which is orbiting in the habitable zone of a star some 42 light years away. From Space.Com:

'Super-Earth' Alien Planet May Be Habitable for Life
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 07 November 2012 Time: 07:02 PM ET

Astronomers have detected an alien planet that may be capable of supporting life as we know it — and it's just a stone's throw from Earth in the cosmic scheme of things.

The newfound exoplanet, a so-called "super-Earth" called HD 40307g, is located inside its host star's habitable zone, a just-right range of distances where liquid water may exist on a world's surface. And the planet lies a mere 42 light-years away from Earth, meaning that future telescopes might be able to image it directly, researchers said.

"The longer orbit of the new planet means that its climate and atmosphere may be just right to support life," study co-author Hugh Jones, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, said in a statement. "Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge to be neither too hot nor too cold but just right, this planet or indeed any moons that it has lie in an orbit comparable to Earth, increasing the probability of it being habitable."

HD 40307g is one of three newly discovered worlds around the parent star, which was already known to host three planets. The finds thus boost the star's total planetary population to six.

The distance is vast, but this is relatively close to earth. For our current technology, a robotic or manned mission to this or any other star system, including Alpha Centauri -- our nearest neighbor 4.3 light years away where astronomers found a planet recently -- may seem like science fiction. Well, to my surprise, NASA is working on something that a certain fictional science officer would call fascinating.

The Warp Drive Could Become Science Fact
New calculations of the energy required to warp spacetime suggest the Star Trek propulsion favorite could be tested.

Mon Sep 17, 2012 02:17 PM ET
Content provided by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com

A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel -- a concept popularized in television's Star Trek -- may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially bringing the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

"There is hope," Harold "Sonny" White of NASA's Johnson Space Center said Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

In a somewhat lighter note, DC Comics collaborated with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: How a Real-Life Astrophysicist Found Superman's Planet Krypton: The Inside Story. Hopefully, it will popularize science and science careers among comic book readers. Sadly, some of the rhetoric directed at Tyson -- an African American -- in the comments shows that some people definitely should not be chosen to represent our world in case the efforts at NASA on creating space warps bear fruit.

So, it seems that we live in an age of wonder, where our society is at risk from global climate change to discovering worlds that could harbor life. We may even have the first baby steps to a way to the stars.

We are perhaps in a special era where our civilization can rise to new heights, or perhaps sink ot new depths of misery and horror. Indeed, there is a fear that global climate change, which nearly all scientists agree is being spurred by human activities, could bring catastrophic changes to our world. There is a fear of mass extinctions, as more animal and plant species disappear as the human population increases. Indeed, some scientists fear that humanity itself might not survive on a radically changed planet.

Yet we have it in our power to address the problems that lie before us. There is great potential in renewable energy. We can get a handle on the increasing population problem. One step that has been shown to work is to ensure political and economic equality of women. This has lead to lower birth rates in the developed world. So, I think that it is far to ask what policies encourage a better world for all humanity and take care of the environment that allows us to live in a beautiful and wondrous world.

While the challenges ahead of us may seem great, we should not despair. Let us remember that we have the power to change our world for the better, individually, nationally and globally. The work to build a better world is the task of all people, be they scientists or brick layers, politicians, pundits or poets. Let us also remember the Latin motto: "Ad astra per aspera" which means "To the stars through difficulties." Despite the cynics, the knaves, and the fools, I find myself agreeing with American author William Faulkner in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

To use a quote from my own tradition, here is what Rabbi Tarfon is quoted in saying in the Talmud (specifically in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers) about building a better world: :
It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it/

The task of caring for this world is in our hands. Let us use our gifts wisely. The hour may be late, but there is still hope for ourselves and those who will come after us. May they have a world with even more wondrous than we can imagine.

7 comments (Latest Comment: 11/10/2012 18:50:40 by Will in Chicago)
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