A stellar revision of the story of life

24/04/2012

Climate Change: News and Comments and The Svensmark Hypothesis

Svensmark’s Cosmic Jackpot

Visible to the naked eye as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades are the most famous of many surviving clusters of stars that formed together at the same time. The Pleiades were born during the time of the dinosaurs, and the most massive of the siblings would have exploded over a period of 40 million years. Their supernova remnants generated cosmic rays. From the catalogue of known star clusters, Henrik Svensmark has calculated the variation in cosmic rays over the past 500 million years, without needing to know the precise shape of the Milky Way Galaxy. Armed with that astronomical history, he digs deep into the histories of the climate and of life on Earth. Image ESA/NASA/Hubble

Today the Royal Astronomical Society in London publishes (online) Henrik Svensmark’s latest paper entitled “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth”. After years of effort Svensmark shows how the variable frequency of stellar explosions not far from our planet has ruled over the changing fortunes of living things throughout the past half billion years. Appearing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, It’s a giant of a paper, with 22 figures, 30 equations and about 15,000 words. See the RAS press release athttp://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2117-did-exploding-stars-help-life-on-earth-to-thrive

By taking me back to when I reported the victory of the pioneers of plate tectonics in their battle against the most eminent geophysicists of the day, it makes me feel 40 years younger. Shredding the textbooks, Tuzo Wilson, Dan McKenzie and Jason Morgan merrily explained earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain-building, and even the varying depth of the ocean, simply by the drift of fragments of the lithosphere in various directions around the globe.

In Svensmark’s new paper an equally concise theory, that cosmic rays from exploded stars cool the world by increasing the cloud cover, leads to amazing explanations, not least for why evolution sometimes was rampant and sometimes faltered. In both senses of the word, this is a stellar revision of the story of life.

Here are the main results:

The long-term diversity of life in the sea depends on the sea-level set by plate tectonics and the local supernova rate set by the astrophysics, and on virtually nothing else.

The long-term primary productivity of life in the sea – the net growth of photosynthetic microbes – depends on the supernova rate, and on virtually nothing else.

Exceptionally close supernovae account for short-lived falls in sea-level during the past 500 million years, long-known to geophysicists but never convincingly explained..

As the geological and astronomical records converge, the match between climate and supernova rates gets better and better, with high rates bringing icy times.

Presented with due caution as well as with consideration for the feelings of experts in several fields of research, a story unfolds in which everything meshes like well-made clockwork. Anyone who wishes to pooh-pooh any piece of it by saying “correlation is not necessarily causality” should offer some other mega-theory that says why several mutually supportive coincidences arise between events in our galactic neighbourhood and living conditions on the Earth.

An amusing point is that Svensmark stands the currently popular carbon dioxide story on its head. Some geoscientists want to blame the drastic alternations of hot and icy conditions during the past 500 million years on increases and decreases in carbon dioxide, which they explain in intricate ways. For Svensmark, the changes driven by the stars govern the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Climate and life control CO2, not the other way around.

By implication, supernovae also determine the amount of oxygen available for animals like you and me to breathe. So the inherently simple cosmic-ray/cloud hypothesis now has far-reaching consequences, which I’ve tried to sum up in this diagram.

Cosmic rays in action. The main findings in the new Svensmark paper concern the uppermost stellar band, the green band of living things and, on the right, atmospheric chemistry. Although solar modulation of galactic cosmic rays is important to us on short timescales, its effects are smaller and briefer than the major long-term changes controlled by the rate of formation of big stars in our vicinity, and their self-destruction as supernovae. Although copyrighted, this figure may be reproduced with due acknowledgement in the context of Henrik Svensmark's work.

By way of explanation

The text of “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth” is available via  ftp://ftp2.space.dtu.dk/pub/Svensmark/MNRAS_Svensmark2012.pdf The paper is highly technical, as befits a professional journal, so to non-expert eyes even the illustrations may be a little puzzling. So I’ve enlisted the aid of Liz Calder to explain the way one of the most striking graphs, Svensmark’s Figure 20, was put together. That graph shows how, over the past 440 million years, the changing rates of supernova explosions relatively close to the Earth have strongly influenced the biodiversity of marine invertebrate animals, from trilobites of ancient times to lobsters of today. Svensmark’s published caption ends: “Evidently marine biodiversity is largely explained by a combination of sea-level and astrophysical activity.” To follow his argument you need to see how Figure 20 draws on information in Figure 19. That tells of the total diversity of the sea creatures in the fossil record, fluctuating between times of rapid evolution and times of recession.

The count is by genera, which are groups of similar animals. Here it’s shown freehand by Liz in Sketch A. Sketch B is from another part of Figure 19, telling how the long-term global sea-level changed during the same period. The broad correspondence isn’t surprising because a high sea-level floods continental margins and gives the marine invertebrates more extensive and varied habitats. But it obviously isn’t the whole story. For a start, there’s a conspicuous spike in diversity about 270 million years ago that contradicts the declining sea-level. Svensmark knew that there was a strong peak in the supernova rate around that time. So he looked to see what would happen to the wiggles over the whole 440 million years if he “normalized” the biodiversity to remove the influence of sea-level. That simple operation is shown in Sketch C, where the 270-million-year spike becomes broader and taller. Sketch D shows Svensmark’s reckoning of the changing rates of nearby supernovae during the same period. Let me stress that these are all freehand sketches to explain the operations, not to convey the data. In the published paper, the graphs as in C and D are drawn precisely and superimposed for comparison.

This is Svensmark's Figure 20, with axes re-labelled with simpler words for the RAS press release. Biodiversity (the normalized marine invertebrate genera count) is in blue, with vertical bars indicating possible errors. The supernova rates are in black.

There are many fascinating particulars that I might use to illustrate the significance of Svensmark’s findings. To choose the Gorgon’s story that follows is not entirely arbitrary, because this brings in another of those top results, about supernovae and bio-productivity.

The great dying at the end of the Permian

Out of breath, poor gorgon? Gasping for some supernovae? Named after scary creatures of Greek myth, the Gorgonopsia of the Late Permian Period included this fossil species Sauroctonus progressus, 3 metres long. Like many of its therapsid cousins, near relatives of our own ancestors, it died out during the Permo-Triassic Event. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgonopsia

Luckiest among our ancestors was a mammal-like reptile, or therapsid, that scraped through the Permo-Triassic Event, the worst catastrophe in the history of animal life. The climax was 251 million years ago at the end of the Permian Period. Nearly all animal species in the sea went extinct, along with most on land. The event ended the era of “old life”, the Palaeozoic, and ushered in the Mesozoic Era, when our ancestors would become small mammals trying to keep clear of the dinosaurs. So what put to death our previously flourishing Gorgon-faced cousins of the Late Permian? According to Henrik Svensmark, the Galaxy let the reptiles down.

Forget old suggestions (by myself included) that the impact of a comet or asteroid was to blame, like the one that did for the dinosaurs at the end of the Mesozoic. The greatest dying was less sudden than that. Similarly the impressive evidence for an eruption 250 million years ago – a flood basalt event that smothered Siberia with noxious volcanic rocks covering an area half the size of Australia – tells of only a belated regional coup de grâce. It’s more to the point that oxygen was in short supply – geologists speak of a “superanoxic ocean”. And there was far more carbon dioxide in the air than there is now.

Well there you go,” some people will say. “We told you CO2 is bad for you.” That, of course, overlooks the fact that the notorious gas keeps us alive. The recently increased CO2 shares with the plant breeders the credit for feeding the growing human population. Plants and photosynthetic microbes covet CO2 to grow. So in the late Permian its high concentration was a symptom of a big shortfall in life’s productivity, due to few supernovae, ice-free conditions, and a lack of weather to circulate the nutrients. And as photosynthesis is also badly needed to turn H2O into O2, the doomed animals were left gasping for oxygen, with little more than half of what we’re lucky to breathe today.

When Svensmark comments briefly on the Permo-Triassic Event in his new paper,Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth,” he does so in the context of the finding that high rates of nearby supernovae promote life’s productivity by chilling the planet, and so improving the circulation of nutrients needed by the photosynthetic organisms.Here’s a sketch from Figure 22 in the paper, simplified to make it easier to read. Heavy carbon, 13C, is an indicator of how much photosynthesis was going on. Plumb in the middle is a downward pointing green dagger that marks the Permo-Triassic Event. And in the local supernova rate (black curve) Svensmark notes that the Late Permian saw the largest fall in the local supernova rate seen in the past 500 million years. This was when the Solar System had left the hyperactive Norma Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy behind it and entered the quiet space beyond. “Fatal consequences would ensue for marine life,” Svensmark writes, “if a rapid warming led to nutrient exhaustion … occurring too quickly for species to adapt.”

One size doesn’t fit all, and a fuller story of Late Permian biodiversity becomes subtler and even more persuasive. About 6 million years before the culminating mass extinction of 251 million years ago, a lesser one occurred at the end of the Guadalupian stage. This earlier extinction was linked with a brief resurgence in the supernova rate and a global cooling that interrupted the mid-Permian warming. In contrast with the end of the Permian, bio-productivity was high. The chief victims of this die-off were warm-water creatures including gigantic bivalves and rugose corals.

Why it’s tagged as “astrobiology”

So what, you may wonder, is the most life-enhancing supernova rate? Without wanting to sound like Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss, it’s probably not very far from the average rate for the past few hundred million years, nor very different from what we have now. Biodiversity and bio-productivity are both generous at present.

Svensmark has commented (not in the paper itself) on a closely related question – where’s the best place to live in the Galaxy?

Too many supernovae can threaten life with extinction. Although they came before the time range of the present paper, very severe episodes called Snowball Earth have been blamed on bursts of rapid star formation. I’ve tagged the paper as ‘Astrobiology’ because we may be very lucky in our location in the Galaxy. Other regions may be inhospitable for advanced forms of life because of too many supernovae or too few.”

Astronomers searching for life elsewhere speak of a Goldilocks Zone in planetary systems. A planet fit for life should be neither too near to nor too far from the parent star. We’re there in the Solar System, sure enough. We may also be in a similar Goldilocks Zone of the Milky Way, and other galaxies with too many or too few supernovae may be unfit for life. Add to that the huge planetary collision that created the Earth’s disproportionately large Moon and provided the orbital stability and active geology on which life relies, and you may suspect that, astronomically at least, Dr Pangloss was right — “Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

Don’t fret about the diehards

If this blog has sometimes seemed too cocky about the Svensmark hypothesis, it’s because I’ve known what was in the pipeline, from theories, observations and experiments, long before publication. Since 1996 the hypothesis has brought new successes year by year and has resisted umpteen attempts to falsify it.

New additions at the level of microphysics include a previously unknown reaction of sulphuric acid, as in a recent preprint. On a vastly different scale, Svensmark’s present supernova paper gives us better knowledge of the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy.

A mark of a good hypothesis is that it looks better and better as time passes. With the triumph of plate tectonics, diehard opponents were left redfaced and blustering. In 1960 you’d not get a job in an American geology department if you believed in continental drift, but by 1970 you’d not get the job if you didn’t. That’s what a paradigm shift means in practice and it will happen sometime soon with cosmic rays in climate physics.

Plate tectonics was never much of a political issue, except in the Communist bloc. There, the immobility of continents was doctrinally imposed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences. An analagous diehard doctrine in climate physics went global two decades ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was conceived to insist that natural causes of climate change are minor compared with human impacts.

Don’t fret about the diehards. The glory of empirical science is this: no matter how many years, decades, or sometimes centuries it may take, in the end the story will come out right.


Quantum computing forges ahead

08/03/2012

Updating Magic Universe

So what’s a Majorana fermion then?

A news item in today’s Nature reminds me that last week it was all happening with quantum computing at a meeting of the American Physical Society. IBM announced a breakthrough in the technology, predicting practical computers of unimaginable power within 10 or 15 years. And in Nature Eugenie Samuel Reich discusses what seems to be a discovery of cosmic importance by a team in Delft, announced at the APS meeting. I’ll sum up two strands of progress in a brief update.

In Magic Universe the last section of the story called “BITS AND QUBITS: the digital world and its quantum shadow looming” reads so far:

Towards quantum computers

For a second revolution in information technology, the experts looked to the spooky behaviour of electrons and atoms known in quantum theory. By 2002 physicists in Australia had made the equivalent of Shannon’s relays of 65 years earlier, but now the switches offered not binary bits, but qubits, pronounced cue-bits. They raised hopes that the first quantum computers might be operating before the first decade of the new century was out.

   Whereas electric relays, and their electronic successors in microchips, provide the simple on/off, true/false, 1/0 options expressed as bits of information, the qubits in the corresponding quantum devices will have many possible states. In theory it is possible to make an extremely fast computer by exploiting ambiguities that are present all the time, in quantum theory.

   If you’re not sure whether an electron in an atom is in one possible energy state, or in the next higher energy state permitted by the physical laws, then it can be considered to be both states at once. In computing terms it represents both 1 and 0 at the same time. Two such ambiguities give you four numbers, 00, 01, 10 and 11, which are the binary-number equivalents of good old 0, 1, 2 and 3. Three ambiguities give eight numbers, and so on, until with fifty you have a million billion numbers represented simultaneously in the quantum computer. In theory the machine can compute with all of them at the same time.

   Such quantum spookiness spooks the spooks. The world’s secret services are still engaged in the centuries-old contest between code-makers and code-breakers. There are new concepts called quantum one-time pads for a supposedly unbreakable cipher, but some experts suspect that a powerful enough quantum computer could crack anything. Who knows what developments may be going on behind the scenes, like the secret work on digital computing by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park in England during the Second World War?

   The Australians were up-front about their intentions. They simply wanted to beat the rest of the world in developing a practical machine, for the sake of the commercial payoff it would bring. The Centre for Quantum Computer Technology was founded in January 2000, with federal funding, and with participating teams in the Universities of New South Wales, Queensland and Melbourne.

   The striking thing was the confidence of project members about what they were attempting. A widespread opinion at the start of the 20th Century held that quantum computing was beyond practical reach for the time being. It was seen as requiring exquisite delicacy in construction and operation, with the ever-present danger that the slightest external interference or mismanagement could cause the whole multiply parallel computation to cave in, like a mistimed soufflé.

   The qubit switches developed in Australia consist of phosphorus atoms implanted in silicon using a high-energy beam aimed with high precision. Phosphorus atoms can sustain a particular state of charge for longer than most atoms, thereby reducing the risk of the soufflé effect. A pair of phosphorus atoms, together with a transistor for reading out their state, constitutes one qubit. Unveiling the first example at a meeting in London, Robert Clark of New South Wales said, ‘This was thought to be impossible just a few years ago.’

Update March 2012 – subject to confirmation of the Majorana fermion

Ten years later, when many others had joined in a prolonged experimental quest for quantum computing, IBM researchers at Yorktown Height s claimed to be within sight of a practical device within 10 or 15 years. Dogging all the experimenters was a problem called decoherence  – would the qbits survive long enough to be checked for possible errors?

In 2012 Matthias Steffen of IBM told a reporter, “In 1999, coherence times were about 1 nanosecond.  Last year, coherence times were achieved for as long as 1 to 4 microseconds. With [our] new techniques, we’ve achieved coherence times of 10 to 100 microseconds. We need to improve that by a factor of 10 to 100 before we’re at the threshold [where] we want to be. But considering that in the past ten years we’ve increased coherence times by a factor of 10,000, I’m not scared.”

Then it would be a matter of scaling up from devices handling one or two qbits to an array with, say, 250 qubits., That would contain more ordinary bits of information than there are atoms in the entire universe and it would be capable of performing millions of computations simultaneously. No existing code could withstand its probing, which probably explains why the US Army funded IBM’s work.

Ettore Majorana - CERN image

A by-product of quantum computing research was the discovery of a new particle in the cosmos. In 1937  the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana adapted a theory by the British Paul Dirac to predict a particle that is its own antiparticle – a very strange item indeed! It would be electrically neutral and exhibit peculiar behaviour.

A team led by Leo Kouwenhoven at Delft University of Technology in the Netherland, tested experimentally a suggestion from 2010 about how to create a pair of these particles. At a very low temperature and in a magnetic field, you touch a superconductor with an extremely fine semiconducting wire. As the signature of the presence of “Majorana fermions”, confirmed by the experimental team, the resistance in the wire becomes very low at zero voltage.

The Majorana particle opened a new route to quantum computing, because of its special ability to remember if it swaps places with a sibling. It was expected to be particularly resistant to the decoherence that plagued other techniques. So the Delft discovery promised a new research industry.

References

Steffen quoted by Alex Knapp in Forbes 28 February 2012 http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/02/28/ibm-paves-the-way-towards-scalable-quantum-computing/

IBM Press Release 28 February 2012 http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/36901.wss

Nature News 8 March 2012: http://www.nature.com/news/a-solid-case-for-majorana-fermions-1.10174

Nature News 28 Feb 2012 http://www.nature.com/news/quest-for-quirky-quantum-particles-may-have-struck-gold-1.10124

“A suggestion from 2010”: paper by Lutchyn et al. in PRL available at arXiv:1002.4033v2


Climate Physics 101

03/03/2012

Climate change: news and comments

Sorry folks, cosmic rays really are in charge

 

On this blog and others, most comments about my previous post “Yet another trick of cosmic rays” have been friendly. Thank you. But some people still want to dismiss all the meticulous experimental, observational and theoretical work of Henrik Svensmark and his colleagues in the Danish National Space Institute by saying there is simply no link between cosmic rays and the climate.

Having written two books on the subject, and still engaged with it, I could in rebuttal flood this post with evidence of many kinds, on time scales from days to millennia or longer. I’ll content myself with just one pair of graphs spanning 50 years. They’re from a 2007 report by Svensmark and the Institute’s director, Eigil Friis-Christensen, and they’re based on a European Space Agency project called ISAC. The carbon dioxide boys and girls would die for a match of cause and effect of this quality.

Cosmic ray intensity is in red and upside down, so that 1991 was a minimum, not a maximum. Fewer cosmic rays mean a warmer world, and the cosmic rays vary with the solar cycle. The blue curve shows the global mean temperature of the mid-troposphere as measured with balloons and collated by the UK Met Office (HadAT2).

In the upper panel the temperatures roughly follow the solar cycle. The match is much better when well-known effects of other natural disturbances (El Niño, North Atlantic Oscillation, big volcanoes) are removed, together with an upward trend of 0.14 deg. C per decade. The trend may be partly due to man-made greenhouse gases, but the magnitude of their contribution is debatable.

From 2000 to 2011 mid-tropospheric temperatures have remained pretty level, like those of the surface, despite the continuing increase in the gases – in “flat” contradiction to the warming predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Meanwhile the Sun is lazy, cosmic ray counts are high and the oceans are cooling.

Reference

Svensmark, H. and Friis-Christensen, E., “Reply to Lockwood and Fröhlich The persistent role of the Sun in climate forcing”, Danish National Space Center Scientific Report 3/2007.


Yet another trick of cosmic rays

01/03/2012

Climate Change: News and Comments

In the climax to the Danes’ experiments, cloud seeds flout the theories

Near to the end of the story that starts with stars exploding in the Galaxy and ends with extra clouds gathering, a small but important paragraph was missing till now. From experiments in Copenhagen reported in 2006 and reconfirmed in 2011 in Aarhus and Geneva (CERN, CLOUD), cosmic rays coming from old supernovas can indeed make molecular clusters a few millionths of a millimetre wide, floating in the air. But can these aerosols really grow nearly a million times in mass to be large enough to become “cloud condensation nuclei” on which water droplets can form – as required by Henrik Svensmark’s cosmic theory of climate change?

Opponents pointed out that theoretical models said No, the growth of additional aerosols would be blocked by a resulting shortage of condensable gases like sulphuric acid in the atmosphere.

Not for the first time, an unexpected trick that Mother Nature had up her sleeve is revealed by experiment. The discovery is elegantly explained by a new way in which sulphuric acid forms in the atmosphere, as announced in a paper by Svensmark and two of his colleagues in Denmark’s National Space Institute in Copenhagen, Martin Enghoff and Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen. They have submitted it to Physical Review Letters. A preprint is available on arXiv here http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.5156v1

Svensmark, Enghoff and Pepke Pedersen

A brief history. Last year’s attempts to dismiss the Aarhus and CERN results as inconsequential for climate change didn’t dismay the Danes. They knew there was something wrong with the current understanding because they had observational support for the whole chain from solar activity to cosmic rays to aerosols to clouds in the real atmosphere (Svensmark, Bondo and Svensmark 2009). In order to dig into the physics, they decided to rebuild, in the basement of the Space Institute, the 8 cubic metre experimental chamber SKYII which six years ago was used as the CLOUD prototype chamber at CERN,

In the limelight of the atmospheric drama, sulphuric acid is one of the commonest of trace gases and very important for both the formation and the growth of aerosols. When the Sun rises in the morning, its ultraviolet rays convert sulphur dioxide, ozone and water vapour in the air into sulphuric acid molecules. These are continuously lost as they club together with further water and a little ammonia into very small molecular clusters. Nevertheless, the concentration of sulphuric acid rises to a peak and then diminishes as the Sun goes down in the evening.

A clue that something more is going on comes from the persistence all through the night of sulphuric acid at about 10 per cent of the daytime maximum. If these molecules too are continuously lost, they must be replenished by a chemical reaction that doesn’t need ultraviolet light.

What did the new experiment called SKY2 show? Without going into technical details that you’ll find in the paper, let’s just say that the primary result flatly contradicts the theoretical prediction that the infant aerosols couldn’t grow up into cloud condensation nuclei. Here’s a figure from the paper.

Molecular clusters grow over time, in the SKY2 experiment in Copenhagen. The horizontal axis is scaled in nanometres (millionths of a millimetre) and each blue point shows the relative number of clusters of that size before and after the experimental runs. Anything over 1.0 means that growth has continued. In contrast, the red points illustrate a pessimistic prediction of previous theories, that growth should cease when the size passes 50 nanometres. On the other hand, the black curve running through the blue points shows what is to be expected if there is a continual supply of sulphuric acid. The persistent growth of clusters occurs only in the presence of gamma rays that simulate cosmic rays and set electrons free to influence the chemistry.

So what’s the explanation? What new pathway supplies the sulphuric acid needed to keep the growth going? The Danes recall a suggestion in their 2006 SKY report that electrons can act like catalysts, being used over and over again to promote chemical action. In the new paper they say: A possible explanation could be that the charged clusters are producing additional [sulphuric acid] molecules from reactions involving negative ion chemistry of [ozone, sulphur dioxide and water], where a negative ion can be reused in a catalytic production of several [sulphuric acid molecules].

Depending on the concentrations of trace gases, several may mean dozens. And where do the electrons come from? They are liberated by cosmic rays raining down by night as well as by day. If the results of the experiment and these ideas are confirmed, there’s an amazing pay-off. The cosmic rays help to make the extra sulphuric acid that allows (1) a number of additional aerosols to form and (2) a larger number of aerosols to grow into cloud condensation nuclei. Without this second effect the aerosols would grow slowly and most of the extra aerosols would be lost before becoming large enough to seed clouds.

That ions liberated by cosmic rays promote a second pathway for forming sulphuric acid was already known from an experiment performed in Copenhagen in a collaboration with the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Tokyo (see the Enghoff et al. reference below). Depending on whether the sulphuric acid comes from ultraviolet action or is ion-induced, it has different signatures in the relative abundances of isotopes of sulphur. What’s more, the number of molecules made by the ion route greatly surpassed the number of ions available, again implying reuse of the electrons in a catalytic fashion.

To summarize the latest paper, the Svensmark, Enghoff and Pepke Pedersen abstract reads:

In experiments where ultraviolet light produces aerosols from trace amounts of ozone, sulphur dioxide, and water vapour, the number of additional small particles produced by ionization by gamma sources all grow up to diameters larger than 50 nm, appropriate for cloud condensation nuclei. This result contradicts both ion-free control experiments and also theoretical models that predict a decline in the response of larger particles due to an insufficiency of condensable gases (which leads to slower growth) and to larger losses by coagulation between the particles. This unpredicted experimental finding points to a process not included in current theoretical models, possibly an ion-induced formation of sulphuric acid in small clusters.

Scandals of a political character engulf climate physics these days, but future historians may shake their heads more sadly over scientific negligence. Isn’t it amazing that such a fundamental activity of sulphuric acid, going on over your head right now, has passed unnoticed since 1875 when cloud seeding was discovered, since 1996 when Svensmark found the link between cosmic rays and cloud cover, and since 2006 when the Danes suggested the catalytic role of electrons? Perhaps the experts were confused by the ever-present dislike of the role of the Sun in climate change.

So Svensmark and the small team in Copenhagen have had nearly all of the breakthroughs to themselves. And the chain of experimental and observational evidence is now much more secure:

Supernova remnants cosmic rays solar modulation of cosmic rays variations in cluster and sulphuric acid production variation in cloud condensation nuclei variation in low cloud formation variation in climate.

Svensmark won’t comment publicly on the new paper until it’s accepted for publication. But I can report that, in conversation, he sounds like a man who has reached the end of a very long trek in defiance of continual opposition and mockery.

References

Henrik Svensmark, Martin B. Enghoff and Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, “Response of Cloud Condensation Nuclei (> 50 nm) to changes in ion-nucleation”, submitted for publication 2012. Preprint available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.5156v1

H. Svensmark, T. Bondo and J. Svensmark, “Cosmic ray decreases affect atmospheric aerosols and clouds”, Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L15101, 2009

Henrik Svensmark, Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, Nigel Marsh, Martin Enghoff and Ulrik Uggerhøj, ‘Experimental Evidence for the Role of Ions in Particle Nucleation under Atmospheric Conditions’, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 463, pp. 385–96, 2007 (online release 2006). This was the original SKY experiment in a basement in Copenhagen.

M. B. Enghoff, N. Bork, S. Hattori, C. Meusinger, M. Nakagawa, J. O. P. Pedersen, S. Danielache, Y. Ueno, M. S. Johnson, N. Yoshida, and H. Svensmark, “An isotope view on ionising radiation as a source of sulphuric acid”, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 12, 5039–5064, 2012. See http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/12/5039/2012/acpd-12-5039-2012.html

Some relevant items on this blog

Aarhus experiment http://calderup.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/accelerator-results-on-cloud-nucleation-2/

CERN CLOUD experiment http://calderup.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/cern-experiment-confirms-cosmic-ray-action/

Observational evidence of aerosol growth http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/do-clouds-disappear/

Summary of Svensmark’s theory http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/nutshell/


Cosmic rays sank the Titanic

27/02/2012

Climate Change: News and Comments

Full steam ahead for the real story of 20th Century warming

Although It seems a strange thing to celebrate, the Titanic Festival in Belfast, where the ship was built, will very soon mark the 100th anniversary of the liner’s foundering on 15 April 1912 after hitting a south-wandering iceberg, with the loss of a multitude of passengers and crew.

Comparing the £100-million Titanic complex newly built in Belfast with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the travel writer Simon Calder has commented, “There is a great shipbuilding heritage, it is a divided city, but the Guggenheim is great on the outside but rubbish on the inside – unlike the Titanic building.”

What’s more, James Cameron’s movie “Titanic” has been remastered in 3D for the centenary.

Time then for me to dig out some slides that I’ve used off and on in lectures since 1999 as an illustration of Henrik Svensmark’s cosmic rays in action, controlling our climate. But first, just to show that I’m not being kooky, here’s a graph from a 2000 paper by E. N. Lawrence of the UK Meteorological Office. “The Titanic disaster – a meteorologist’s perspective” related iceberg abundance at low latitudes to a scarcity of sunspots.

by E.N. Lawrence

And Steven Goddard recalls a much older article, from the Chicago Tribune in 1923, that also linked icebergs with sunspots http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/1923-article-linked-icebergs-with-sunspots/

The notion that the Sun is dimmer when there are few sunspots goes right back to William Herschel at the beginning of the 19th Century. The trouble is that the variations in solar brightness, as measured by satellites, are too small to explain the strong influence of the Sun on climate as recorded over thousands of years, and continuing into the 21st Century. That’s where Svensmark’s discovery of 16 years ago comes in, with the amplifier. Cosmic rays coming from the Galaxy are more intense when there are fewer sunspots and they increase the global cloud cover, so cooling the world.

Some preliminary comments before showing my own slides about cosmic rays and the fate of Titanic. Of course the disaster also involved several elements of shameful seamanship, but the fact remains that large icebergs abounded much further south than usual in the spring of 1912. Secondly, I prepared the slides so long ago that I can’t recall the data sources. If challenged, I expect I could dig them out, and I do remember that the picture is from the Illustrated London News.

There was no direct recording of cosmic ray variations in those days. Indeed. Victor Hess was busy discovering them at that very time. So we have to make do with the geomagnetic activity index (called aa in the second slide) as an inverse indicator of cosmic ray influx, and with the counts of beryllium-10 and carbon-14, which are made by cosmic rays. Otherwise the slides should speak for themselves.

by Nigel Calder

by Nigel Calder

The theme music of Cameron’s film “Titanic” is entitled “Full Steam Ahead”. Although the ship came to an abrupt halt, the same has not happened to Svensmark’s theory. As plenty of other posts on this blog will show you, its bow wave keeps sweeping aside the attempts to falsify it. And fresh energy builds up more and more speed as all the pieces of the hypothesis fall into place, from quantum chemistry to the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy.

It’s a truly titanic idea, threatening disaster for the multitude who ignore the natural drivers of climate change, and shame for the misguided folk on the bridge who peer at computer screens instead of looking out of the window.

References

Simon Calder quoted: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/business-news/titanic-site-to-exceed-all-expectations-says-expert-16114943.html#ixzz1nb8gmfMP

E.N. Lawrence, Weather (Roy. Met. Soc.), Vol. 55, March 2000.

See also this from NOAA http://www.oar.noaa.gov/spotlite/archive/spot_sunclimate.html


What Language on Mars? (2)

23/01/2012

Predictions Revisited

The Chinese space programme

Still catching up after Christmas, I’ve been reading an official report from China issued on 29 December, about their plans for space activities in the next five years. In a post in August 2010 called “What language will they speak on Mars?” the answer was “Chinese, on present showing”.

It harked back to a prediction by Wernher von Braun made in 1964.

Man may have landed on the surface of Mars by 1984. If not, he will surely have made a close approach for personal observation of the red planet. Likewise, manned ‘fly-bys’ to Venus will have been made.

Lunar landings will have long since passed from the fantastic achievement to routine occurrence. Astronauts will be shuttling back and forth on regular schedules from the earth to a small permanent base of operations on the moon.

Although unstated, von Braun’s reliance for the Mars flight was on a nuclear rocket called Orion, which was cancelled soon after he wrote his article. Since then the US space programme has faltered or veered about under a succession of Presidents with different priorities. The present lack of American transport to take people to the International Space Station ranks with the British navy’s current construction of aircraft carriers for which there’ll be no suitable aircraft.

By contrast the Chinese space engineers, although starting about half a century behind the USA and Russia and still only moderately funded, are now moving steadily ahead with a programme that has clear and mutually compatible objectives. The new plan includes developing a space laboratory and collecting samples from the Moon by 2016, and building a more powerful manned spaceship. No date is given for a manned landing on the Moon, but that is under study.

A module for a Chinese space laboratory, the eight-ton Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace-1”), lifted off from the Jiuquan launch site near the Gobi Desert on a Long March 2FT1 rocket on 22 September 2011. Image: Caters News Agency.

The Army coordinates the space programe. Although the report is careful to say, China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space, there’s military significance in the BeiDou (“Compass”) navigation satellites. Western and Russian systems are downgraded to stop them guiding hostile missiles too precisely. But with ten BeiDou satellites already launched and focused on East Asia, the Chinese intend to have a 35-satellite global navigation system by 2020.

As for their first shot at Mars, the Chinese have been thwarted by the hoodoo on Russian missions to the Red Planet. Yinghuo-1 (“Shining Planet”) rode piggyback on the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft launched from Baikonur on 8 November last. The pair failed to escape from Earth orbit and disintegrated into the Pacific Ocean on 15 January. There’s been word that the Russians would like to blame a US radar for spoiling their mission, but that’s far-fetched. And the name Yinghuo-1 surely implies that the Chinese will try again.

The post “What language will they speak on Mars?” is here http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/what-language-on-mars/#more-1442

You can read the full Chinese report in English here http://www.scio.gov.cn/zxbd/wz/201112/t1073727.htm (clicking on the panels 1, 2, 3 etc at the bottom of each page)

The Royal Aeronautical Society will have a lecture at its London HQ about “China’s Expanding Space Programme,” next Thursday, 26 January, at 8 pm. Karl Bergquist of the European Space Agency, a Swede fluent in Mandarin. Summary, details and registration here http://aerosociety.com/Events/Event-List/318/Chinas-Expanding-Space-Programme


Dying comets probe the Sun

22/01/2012

Updating Magic Universe

Debris traces the solar magnetic field

What started as a bonanza for comet spotters becomes a new tool for exploring levels in the Sun’s atmosphere that have been hard to see up to now. The SOHO spacecraft (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) has identified more than 1400 small “sungrazing” comets that fly close to the Sun and evaporate. In July last year, the comet observers using SOHO’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) team alerted colleagues operating the newer SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) to a larger-than-usual sungrazer heading for its doom.

As he reports in the current issue of Science magazine, Karel Schrijver from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in California tracked Comet 2011 N3 SOHO by extreme ultraviolet light with his Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on SDO, which observes highly ionized atoms. What he learned about the comet and about the Sun I’ll tell below as a concise update for Magic Universe. Meanwhile the word is that SDO also observed Comet Lovejoy last month, when it survived a close encounter with the Sun, passing behind it and reappearing on the other side.

Here are a few relevant paragraphs from my story about Comets and Asteroids in Magic Universe.

The big comet count came from another instrument on SOHO, called LASCO, developed under US leadership. Masking the direct rays of the Sun, it kept a constant watch on a huge volume of space around it, looking out primarily for solar eruptions. But it also saw comets when they crossed the Earth-Sun line, or flew very close to the Sun.

A charming feature of the SOHO comet watch was that amateur astronomers all around the world could discover new comets, not by shivering all night in their gardens but by checking the latest images from LASCO. These were freely available on the Internet. And there were hundreds to be found, most of them small ‘sungrazing’ comets, all coming from the same direction. They perished in encounters with the solar atmosphere, but they were related to larger objects on similar orbits that did survive, including the Great September Comet (1882) and Comet Ikeya-Seki (1965).

SOHO is seeing fragments from the gradual break-up of a great comet, perhaps the one that the Greek astronomer Ephorus saw in 372 BC,’ explained Brian Marsden of the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. ‘Ephorus reported that the comet split in two. This fits with my calculation that two comets on similar orbits revisited the Sun around AD 1100. They split again and again, producing the sungrazer family, all still coming from the same direction.’

The progenitor of the sungrazers must have been enormous, perhaps 100 kilometres in diameter or a thousand times more massive than Halley’s Comet. Not an object you’d want the Earth to tangle with. Yet its most numerous offspring, the SOHO-LASCO comets, are estimated to be typically only about 10 metres in diameter.

Update January 2012

In July 2011 a larger than usual sungrazer spotted by SOHO was tracked across the face of the Sun by a newer spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, SDO. Named as Comet 2011 N3 SOHO, it evaporated to the point of invisibility after 20 minutes, but not before the event had transformed the game from comet-spotting fun to highly productive cometary and solar physics.

Led by Karel Schrijver from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in California, the SDO team was able to gauge the size of the comet. Initially it was up to 50 metres wide. This opened the way to investigating the sungrazers in much more detail. It should become possible to learn more about the composition of these comets, according to how they boil and rupture in the intense heat.

As for solar physics, the miniature tail of the dying comet lit up magnetic field lines at altitudes high in the solar atmosphere that otherwise are almost impossible to detect. Seeing the lines traced by sungrazers at different heights above the Sun will make it possible to trace more accurately the links between the magnetism near the visible surface and the vast field that reaches out into space and influences the Earth.

References

Karel Schrijver et al., Science 20 January 2012, vol. 335, pp. 324-328 DOI: 10.1126/science.1211688

NB: Movies are available at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6066/324/suppl/


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