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/


The Sun and auroras for beginners

22/01/2012

Pick of the pics

Our Explosive Sun by Pål Brekke

In “Our Explosive Sun”, the picture has this caption. “A unique image of the planets close to the Sun observed with the LASCO telescope on SOHO. An occulting disk inside the telescope blocks the bright light from the solar disk creating an artificial solar eclipse. Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Pleiades are visible. Just outside the occulting disk one can see enormous ejections of gas from the hidden Sun. The horizontal streaks from the planets are artifacts from the digital camera (ESA/NASA).”

It’s one of my favourite images from the Space Age. The Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) took it on 15 May 2000. Four planets and the Pleiades star cluster were almost in line with the Sun – which chose this theatrical moment to blast off a huge puff of gas in a coronal mass ejection (CME). So I’m not surprised to find the picture in Our Explosive Sun by Pål Brekke, a colourful book that’s just been published by Springer.

Pål Brekke (NRS)

Pål (pronounced Paul) is a Norwegian solar physicist who worked in the SOHO team for more than a decade, latterly as Deputy Project Scientist. We’ve known each other well from the time when I was writing a lot for the European Space Agency. Pål’s now a Senior Advisor at the Norwegian Space Centre.

Let’s be clear that Our Explosive Sun is a book for beginners, be they amateur astronomers, aurora watchers, high school students, or interested non-experts of any description. There’s plenty of elementary information about our mother star and the Solar System, and about how to observe the Sun safely or photograph the Northern Lights. Making the book distinctive are a mass of extraordinarily vivid and up to date illustrations, plus the occasional insights you get only from a true expert.

For example, in warning of the dangers that solar explosions will pose to astronauts flying to the Moon or Mars, Pål reminds us that the lunar flights of Apollos 16 and 17, in April and December 1972, were lucky to miss a big burst of deadly solar protons in August of that year. And in explaining the distances of stars, he notes that in about 40 years time an astronomer with a supertelescope on a planet in the Pleiades star cluster might in principle see Galileo turning his own telescope on the Pleaides for the first time, from a distance of 440 light-years.

It’s a pity perhaps that Pål doesn’t mention cosmic rays, which provide one of the great markers of solar variations both currently and in the past. And his remarks on solar activity and climate change are brief and rather cautious, e.g.: One thousand years ago, it was warmer on Greenland than today. … Human-driven climate change will work in addition to natural climate variability mainly caused by the Sun.

References

Pål Brekke, Our Explosive Sun: A Visual Feast of Our Source of Light and Life, Springer 2012. [Hardcover]

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Our-Explosive-Sun-Visual-Source/dp/146140570X


Utopia beats Dystopia

30/11/2011

Predictions Revisited

Let’s lay Malthus to Rest

After all that Halloween anguish about the global population reaching 7 billion, how refreshing to have an upbeat assessment of the world food situation! It comes from the retiring professor of sustainable development and food security at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Hindsights in Perspective” was the title of Rudy Rabbinge’s farewell address, and you can see a press release about it here http://www.wageningenuniversity.nl/UK/newsagenda/news/RR_UK111129.htm

Two hundred years ago, Malthus predicted that the world would be unable to feed the growing population. The fact that he was manifestly wrong is illustrated by the current situation in which the population has increased seven-fold, but there is now more food per head available than in 1800.”

Other points from Prof. Rabbinge:

 

Rudy Rabbinge. Photo Wageningen U.

  • The notion of a present or future shortage is a misunderstanding – this is not the case anywhere in the world, except in China.
  • We do not need extra agricultural land in order to feed the world population in the coming decades.
  • The damage caused to the environment by farming has dropped considerably.
  • Ineffective policy, unequal distribution of production and poor food distribution still leads to a billion people going hungry — a disgrace that warrants a world-wide reaction.
  • Science gives cause for utopian thinking with good prospects rather than anti-utopian (dystopian) defeatism; whilst naive optimism is dangerous, unfounded pessimism is discouraging and frustrating,

Back in 1967, in The Environment Game (Secker & Warburg) I visualized an implosion of food production into small, intensive operations, such that most land could be restored to nature. This is a theme at Wageningen too:

Rabbinge refers to the energy-producing greenhouse (which could be operational in the coming years), energy-neutral buildings, and small-scale power generation by means of bio-solar cells. If agricultural production is concentrated at the well-endowed locations, geared up to high production, the world will be in a position both to sustain agro-biodiversity (the combination of natural disease control and biological control mechanisms in the fields) and to release areas of agricultural land for nature. This will require more energy per unit of area but less per unit of product.

Postscript: Prof. Rabbinge feels more affinity with the Malthus’s French contemporary, the mathematician and philosopher Condorcet, who believed in dramatic change thanks to man´s ingenuity. You can see the Marquis de Condorcet’s book on Progress (1795, trs into English 1796) here http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1669&Itemid=27#toc_list Before getting too zealously utopian, please remember that Condorcet was a prominent supporter of the French Revolution but then died as one of its many victims. Failures are due to politics, not science and technology.

For earlier posts about Malthusian errors see: http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/the-population-bomb/ and http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/malthus-with-a-computer/


Royal Society Winton Book Prize

18/11/2011

Uncategorized

In Praise of Idleness

That was the title of a famous essay by Bertrand Russell. Being myself a lifelong victim of the protestant work ethic, I was impressed at the Royal Society last night when the prize for science books 2011, now sponsored by Winton Capital Management, went to Gavin Pretor-Pinney for The Wavewatcher’s Companion (Bloomsbury).

 

Gavin Pretor-Pinney

Although the book has a beach chair with sea waves on its cover (an icon of idleness) it covers waves of every kind you’d think of, and some you wouldn’t. Given the chance to read a passage from his book during the ceremonies, Pretor-Pinney chose the intricate waves of hungry amoebae. They assemble to make a slug-like object and then build a tower from which they send spores to look for happier hunting grounds.

Salutary point (1) This is only the second book that Pretor-Pinney has written. The previous one was The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which of course I have because of my interest in the Svensmark cloud-seeding connection.

Salutary point (2): Pretor-Pinney was a founder of The Idler magazine. http://idler.co.uk/

Perhaps my only claim to fruitful idleness is that a literary by-product of my family cruising under sail, The English Channel, won the Best Book of the Sea award at the London Boat Show.

Small world note: Gavin Pretor-Pinney also took part in the BBC-TV programme “The Secret Life of Waves”, which was made by David Malone, son of Adrian Malone who produced one of my BBC blockbusters “The Life Game” (1973). That programme took its title, and an important sequence, from a table game with nucleic acids played by biophysicists in Goettingen led by Manfred Eigen. Now Eigen has written the most interesting upcoming book that I know about just now. Due out soon from Oxford UP, it’s called From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity. Oxford asked me for an endorsement and here’s what I’ve offered them.

What a splendid antidote to the swagger of physicists and biologists who think they already understand the living universe! Manfred Eigen pulls back the carpet like a careful housekeeper and brings to light mind-wrenching questions that most scientists brush out of sight. His search for the physical roots of the logic of life is not an easy path to follow, but Eigen helps us all he can with his polymathic skill and lucid style.

I fear it may be too mind-wrenching for the general readers targeted by the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.


Sausages without the pig

14/11/2011

Predictions revisited

Food production by tissue engineering

This drawing by Nik Spencer shows an as-yet unrealised concept of Morris Benjaminson at Touro College, New York, It introduces the theme, rather than illustrating the work in the Netherlands noted below. The source is an article by Nicola Jones in Nature 468, 752-753 (2010) and you can see a larger and more legible version here http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101208/full/468752a/box/1.html

I’d still like to trace just where the idea originated. I know that In 1967 I was predicting “beef-steak without a cow” in The Environment Game, a book that visualized the land areas needed for agriculture being greatly reduced. In 1983, my contribution to The Future of a Troubled World, pictured “endless sausages growing by tissue culture of pork muscle”. But now I learn that Winston Churchill was talking about “chicken breast without the chicken” back in 1931. Where did he get it from? I’ll go on checking.

The Churchill quote comes in a segment in “Brave New World with Stephen Hawking” on Channel 4 (14 November). It follows up stories of the past few years about developments, most notably in the Netherlands, that are gradually making it a reality.

Here’s what I wrote in 1967:

Tissue culture itself is one of the most attractive ideas for artificial food production. It is no longer far-fetched to think that we may learn how to grow beef-steak, for example, without a cow. Tissue culture, the technique for growing cells outside the organism from which they originated, is already used for special purposes in research and also for growing viruses in the manufacture of vaccine; the advent of polio vaccine depended on the successful cultivation of kidney cells. That in turn followed the introduction of antibiotics to preserve the cultures from the ravages of stray micro-organisms.

When cells are cultured by present techniques they tend to lose their specialized character. By deliberately letting specialized cells such as kidney or muscle revert to the undifferentiated nature of a newly fertilized egg, we can use them in a quite arbitrary way for a variety of synthetic purposes. If, on the other hand, we want to grow beef-steak we must simulate the conditions governing the growth and arrangement of the cells in the live animal, otherwise we shall finish up with something like finely divided mince.

The Netherlands launched a well-funded multi-university project in 2005, and in the Hawking show, Mark Evans visits Mark Post at Maastricht University who shows him muscle fibres forming artifically. Post has some commerical backing and declares himself “reasonably confident” that next year (2012) he’ll make a hamburger. But with a price tag on the burger at 250,000 euros it’s “still in the scientific phase”.

Besides reducing the land areas for meat production, eventual success with “in-vitro meat” will mean that astronauts bound for Mars can still have their burgers, sausages and chicken breast.

Added 15 November.

Suspecting that J.B.S. Haldane might have been an early predictor of synthetic food, I’ve dug out this 1923 lecture http://www.marxists.org/archive/haldane/works/1920s/daedalus.htm But he visualizes synthesis from scratch. “Many of our foodstuffs, including the proteins, we shall probably build up from simpler sources such as coal and atmospheric nitrogen.”

A step in the extrapolation to tissue culture seems to have come from Haldane’s evolutionist chum, Julian Huxley, in fictional form in a short story, “The Tissue-Culture King” (1927). There the tissue of an African ruler was proliferated in that way – but for power, not for food. So where did Churchill get his rather precise prediction from? En route I’ve found the Churchill source. In Fifty Years Hence, In Thoughts and Adventures, Thornton Butterworth (London) 1932, Winston wrote:

“Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

References

Nicola Jones, Nature, 468, 752-753, 2010

Nigel Calder, The Environment Game, Secker & Warburg (London) 1997

Ritchie Calder (ed), The Future of a Troubled World, Heinemann (London) 1983

Channel 4 (London), “Brave New World with Stephen Hawking,” Part 4, Environment, 14 November 2011. See http://www.channel4.com/programmes/brave-new-world-with-stephen-hawking/4od#3253407


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