Imagine Earth Breathing


Ponder the Gaia hypothesis, suspend belief and imagine that “Earth’s living things interact with the physical world around us to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on our planet.”

The notion that Earth interacted with its atmosphere  as a “super-organism” was hypothesized by Scottish geologist James Hutton in the 18th century. Crazy talk at the time, it would be 200 years before English chemist James Lovelock wrote Gaia:A New Look at Life on Earth in 1979. Lovelock looked at chemistry and physics of Venus and Mars, suggesting that absence of life was the reason neither had an atmosphere to sustain life. In short – Earth’s atmosphere exists and sustains itself because of life, living things interact with the physical world to create a “self sustaining”  environment conducive to life.

In 2010 a survey of 400 British scientists ranked the Gaia hypothesis alongside DNA, considered one of the top ten scientific breakthroughs of all time. Wow, that’s heady stuff.

“…once people could travel beyond the atmosphere of Earth and put enough distance between them and their planet, then they could view their home from an extra-terrestrial viewpoint. No doubt that the 1960s photographs of the blue, green, and white ball of life floating in the total darkness of outer space made both scientists and the public think of their home planet a little differently than they ever had before. These pictures of Earth must have brought to mind the notion that it resembled a single organism.”

http://www.scienceclarified.com/Ex-Ga/Gaia-Hypothesis.html

The Gaia hypothesis suggests life on Earth regulates itself based solely on existence and interaction of living organisms. Left alone our world can stabilize itself, muck with it enough – we might find ourselves going the way of Mars.

Super-moon Totally Eclipses the Sun


Mark March 20, 2015 on your calender. If that day rings a bell, you might be pondering the spring equinox – a conclusion worthy of honourable mention yet no blue ribbon because this March equinox is so much more.

In a nutshell, the Earth has a wobbly axis. Twice a year (March and September) the “plane” of Earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, at that point our axis tilts neither away or towards the sun. Imagine a line perpendicular to the equator, a brief time when northern and southern hemispheres are illuminated equally – you have the equinox. Think of it as roughly equal hours of day and night. Due to a blinky wobble in Earth’s axis, this happens at different times each March, roughly on the 20th or 21st.

Lets talk Moon. A super-moon occurs when a new or full moon happens at the “perigee” or closest point of orbit to Earth. 2015 officially has 6 super-moons – new moons in January, February and March, full moons in August, September and October.

Moving on to Sun – a solar eclipse only happens when a new moon passes between Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow on our planet. This conjuncture, or “syzygy” causes the Moon to fully obscure the sun’s “disc”, resulting in shadows cast upon earth.

So we have equinox, super-moon, and solar eclipse – what are the chances of them happening at the same time? If you guessed not very likely, I award you that blue ribbon.

Enter March 20, 2015 – one of those few days when cosmic circumstance delivers. If you miss this one, you’ll have to wait until 2034, 2053, or 2072.

http://earthsky.org/tonight/supermoon-to-stage-total-eclipse-of-the-sun-on-march-20?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=61218b132d-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-61218b132d-393970565#what

Composite total solar eclipse Aug. 1999 by Fred Espenak.

October 23, Partial Eclipse of the Sun


A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between Earth and the Sun. The moon has “phases” as it travels in a wobbly orbit around Earth. The “light of the Moon” is really just sunlight reflecting off the lunar surface. Depending where the Moon is in relation to the Sun, this light appears to us as new moon, crescent moon, quarter moon, half moon, full moon and so on – the moon orbits Earth once every 29 1/2 days, hence our lunar cycle.

A “new Moon” can’t actually be seen from Earth because the illuminated side points away from us. A solar eclipse can only happen during the new moon phase, and only when the wobbly moon orbit lines up between Earth and the Sun, as to caste a shadow – this is a solar eclipse. Because the Moon’s orbit is tilted 5 degrees to Earth’s orbit around the Sun, the “shadow” usually misses Earth.  A couple of times a year the shadow falls on our planet, depending on the angle of orbit and global location, this translates to varying degrees of eclipse.

On October 23, a partial eclipse will dazzle those inclined to notice –  if you reside in the “red zone”, click on the link below the graphic for optimum viewing times and duration.

 

http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/2014-october-23

Old Water


Earth has a lot of water – over 70% of the planet is below sea level. Less than 3%  fresh water – almost all of that hiding as groundwater or frozen glaciers and ice-caps. Earth commands a orbital sweet spot around the sun – not too far, not too close, but just right to set us apart with liquid surface water. Water responsible for another unique distinction – plate tectonics. Water lubricates  continental plates, facilitating constant bump and grind across our molten outer core. Movement responsible for mountain ranges, weather patterns and life as we know it.

Not often pondered outside quality, supply and demand – our most basic element is taken for granted. Understanding frozen objects litter the universe doesn’t often translate to consideration of how we ended up with all that water.

A study led by Ilsedore Cleeves, an Astrochemist from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, indicates much of our water was present before the sun formed – more importantly 30-50% of Earth’s water not only escaped heat,radiation, and vaporization when the sun booted up, some 4.6 billion years ago – it prevailed despite those conditions. When a star first “lights up”, the surrounding cosmic cloud (imagine a chaotic jumble of cosmic dust particles and ice) it’s subjected to intense heat and radiation – vaporizing ice, and separating some water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Science could only speculate as to how much water survived this bombardment – in other words, what might have remained as a “universal ingredient” in planet formation. Of particular interest, the study of two very different waters – regular old water and heavy water. Heavy water contains an element called Deuterium or heavy hydrogen – Deuterium rich water (identified as having a hydrogen isotope containing  a neutron in addition to proton in the nucleus) is the product of substantial exposure to cosmic radiation.

Cleeves led researchers in creating a “planetary disk” – essentially a laboratory mock up of what happened to ice and water when the sun “lit” up. How much heat, direct solar radiation, and distance traveled by outside cosmic radiation were needed to account for measurable heavy water in our solar system.  Their conclusion, published Sept. 26 in the journal Science – water and heavy water didn’t add up. A whole lot of  water – perhaps as high as 50% came from icy interstellar space, millions of years before our sun got down to business.

“Our findings show that a significant fraction of our solar system’s water, the most-fundamental ingredient to fostering life, is older than the sun, which indicates that abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems.” – Conel Alexander, research team member from the Carnegie Institute of Science.

Ponder that statement a moment – “abundant, organic-rich interstellar ices should probably be found in all young planetary systems” – that is so cool.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-has-water-older-than-the-sun/

 

 

How Many People?


The “balance of nature” has become an abstract concept in terms of our place in the puzzle. A industrialized world which tends to remove humanity from the equation – “nature” becoming the realm of plants and animals,  beyond our lofty”king of the hill” mentality. All too easy to forget mankind plays a pivotal position in Earth’s balance.

Prior to mechanized farming and medical advances such as immunization – world population chugged along at a manageable pace. Somewhere between one and two billion people until the mid 17th, early 18th century when food production tripled along with the number of mouths to feed. From a billion or so in 1850, two billion by 1930, to over seven billion today – taking a moment to ponder our planets’ breaking point is a sobering thought.

Water is a finite resource – as with fossil fuels, we can’t manufacture it. Over a billion people on Earth have limited access to fresh water. China, India, the Middle East, California – all face epic water shortages. Available land for farming has reached critical mass – there simply isn’t any more, and what we do have is stretched to a breaking point by over-use and water shortages.

When China introduced the “one child” policy in 1979 I thought of it as totalitarian meddling – reproductive legislation, yet another blight on an already oppressed country. Impossible to fathom public outcry if western politicians dared hint at such a travesty of human rights.

Like it or not, we all need to ponder how much our planet can sustain. By 2050 our population is projected to top 10 billion. I don’t know what the answer is. Are we willing to play golf on artificial grass, turn off the fountains in Las Vegas, collect rain water for our yards, flush the toilet after every third use, and learn to live with dirty cars? Would we be willing to settle for our “share” of available water in exchange for restoring the balance of nature.

Ponder the balance of nature and ask yourself – how many people can the Earth support? Nature’s balance depends on the answer.

 

Why So Uppity Mr. Sun?


The new year is arriving with a cosmic marching band. The sudden discovery of asteroid 2014 AA, a mere 24 hours before slamming the atmosphere and burning up over the Atlantic Jan. 2, now sunspot AR1944 is flexing gargantuan solar muscle.

This sunspot is so huge, it can be seen as a naked eye pock mark on the sun. Minding its manners for a day or two after showing up on Jan. 1, proved too much – AR1944 is in a tizzy, soon to be facing earth and by all appearances ready to kick ass. Waiting for a possible slap from a M4- class flare that erupted yesterday, could soon be over shadowed by a for more potent flare, coupled with AR 1944 facing earth.

NOAA scientists predict a 75% chance of M-class, and 30% of X-class flares within the next 24 hours. I know it’s difficult for those who don’t ponder solar activity to fathom the power of an earth directed super spot like AR 1944. I realize these predictions come and go, most often resulting in nothing more than a few airplanes altering course and spectacular auroras. Cry wolf enough times and soon nobody pays the slightest attention.

I think of these warnings as I would a tornado watch. All the elements are in place for a really bad day-it might take shape, or if we’re lucky just rain and hail like a banshee before the sunlight lets us get on with our day. Regardless, the warning is taken seriously and prepared for.

I’ve spoken about the Carrington event of 1859 till I’m blue in the face. If eyes don’t roll they glaze over as I recite the details; a solar flare witnessed by John Carrington, one that messed with our planet so much, telegraph stations burst into flames. A solar hit strong enough that if it happened today, could wipe out power for months. No cell phones, computers, ATMs, gasoline, water, heat, lights. Forget grocery stores or banks, forget your lights coming back anytime soon.

https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/carrington-event/

So call me the little ponderer who cried wolf, or get your head wrapped around solar flares and all their ramifications. There isn’t a thing we can do to stop them, a major “event” will happen again – all we can do is get some emergency supplies together and not go bat shit when our precious cell phones go dark.A link to space weather warnings currently in effect, click on the colored symbols for descriptions….

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html

 

Geminids and Gibbous Moons


When the Geminid meteor shower peaks on Dec. 13 and 14, a pesky, almost full moon is poised to steal fireball thunder. The annual Geminids are one of the most prolific night shows, with an average of 120 meteors an hour. As if losing ISON wasn’t bad enough; a bright winter moon is expected to reduce visible meteors 2 – 5 fold.

Annual meteor showers result from earth’s orbit intersecting debris from a sun orbiting comet. Radiant point, is the name given to this intersection. Debris from comet 3200 Phaethon happens to intersect our orbit in the vicinity of constellation Gemini, hence – Geminids. To find Gemini, look for the star Castor, low on the east, north-east sky around 9 PM. Castor is one of the brightest stars in the sky and along with Pollux, make up the ” twin brothers ” of Gemini. The reason Geminids produce so many visible meteors is that the constellation and radiant point swing upward; by 2 AM the point is directly above you in the sky. The angle of the radiant, translates into no poor seats for this show – you can see it from anywhere, with 2 AM as your prime time.

This year we have a waxing gibbous moon to deal with – not a deal breaker, but grounds for some new rules. Since the nearly full moon is so bright, you should wait until the moon sets. This year pre-dawn moon set offers the best view. Get out of town – away from city lights – and give yourself a few minutes to adjust to the darkness. Gibbous moon aside – I guarantee you’ll see fireballs – you don’t even have to find Gemini, the Geminids have a crazy way of appearing to come from any direction.

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/radiant-point-for-geminid-meteor-shower

To find out when the moon sets in your little corner of the world – a link…..

http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services

Ponder the last time you wished upon a falling star.

Jupiter, Castor and Pollux rise at early-to-mid evening in early December but at dusk or nightfall  by the month's end.

Jupiter, Castor and Pollux rise at early-to-mid evening in early December but at dusk or nightfall by the month’s end.