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  1. Paper that claimed the Sun caused global warming gets retracted It turns out the Earth is also subject to gravity, which was a problem. Enlarge NASA 156 with 95 posters participating, including story author A paper published last June was catnip for those who are desperate to explain climate change with anything but human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. It was also apparently wrong enough to be retracted this week by the journal that published it, even though its authors objected. The paper’s headline conclusion was that it described a newly discovered cycle in the motion of the Sun, one that put us 300 years into what would be a thousand-year warming period for the Earth. Nevermind that we’ve been directly measuring the incoming radiation from the Sun and there has been no increase to explain the observed global warming—or that there is no evidence of a 2,000 year temperature cycle in the paleoclimate record. Those obvious issues didn't stop some people from taking this study as proof that past warming was natural, and only mild and unavoidable warming lies in our future. What goes up must come down… in a cycle? The lead author of the paper was Valentina Zharkova, a mathematician and astrophysicist at Northumbria University who has a bit of a track record. If you’ve ever read one of the dozens (hundreds?) of UK tabloid stories declaring that we're about to start an impending “mini ice age” driven by a declining solar cycle, it was probably supported by a quote from Professor Zharkova. A mini ice age can be difficult to fit into a 1,000 year warming trend, of course, but that didn't stop Zharkova from publishing her new claim. Immediately after her paper was published in Scientific Reports—an open access journal among the sprawling family published under the same roof as Nature—criticism of the work started coming in. In fact, much of it is documented in a long comment thread on PubPeer, a site designed to host a sort of post-publication, public peer review. (That truly incredible thread is recommended reading, dear reader.) The objections started with Ken Rice, a University of Edinburgh astrophysicist and climate blogger. He challenged the paper’s central claim—that the distance between the Earth and the Sun would change as a result of the cycle they were describing. And that’s where things got really wild. Zharkova engaged in a spirited back-and-forth with Rice that generated more heat than light. Both agreed that the Sun is known to wobble around the precise gravitational balance point of the Solar System, pulled slightly off its mark by the attraction of the larger planets like Jupiter and Saturn. But the study seemed to ignore the fact that the Earth’s orbit also shifts in response to those giant planets, causing it to maintain a constant distance from the Sun. The paper instead assumed that Earth’s orbit was unaffected so that any motion of the Sun would alter its distance from the Earth. If that’s not true, then there has been no change in the strength of sunlight reaching the Earth, and there is no mechanism for their centuries-long warming trend. As several people tried in vain to point out that this constant Earth-Sun relationship is well-known, Zharkova posted, “Oh dear, You suggest that the Earth does follow in its orbit this solar inertial motion? And its orbit is not stable? You have to have a very vivid imagination assuming that the Earth moves like a drunken men...[sic]” At one point, after Rice provided a simple orbital simulation calculating the gravitational interactions in the Solar System, Zharkova replied, “Your simulations are extremely biased by the idea you believe in.” (Zharkova also demonstrates an affinity for an array of arguments against the clear evidence for human-caused climate change, sharing (unprompted) claims that humans are not responsible for increasing atmospheric CO2, challenging the accuracy of global temperature data, and failing to grasp the important difference between local temperature data and global records.) On Wednesday, Scientific Reports—for which Zharkova is listed as an editor, by the way—formally retracted the paper. The retraction note states that “concerns were raised regarding the interpretation of how the Earth-Sun distance changes over time and that some of the assumptions on which analyses presented in the Article are based are incorrect.” One of the paper’s four authors apparently agreed to retract the paper, while the other three (Zharkova among them) objected. When contacted by Retraction Watch for their post on this, Zharkova told them, “We consider this retraction by the Editor of Scientific Reports as a shameful step to cover up the truthful facts about the solar and Earth orbital motion reported by the retracted paper, in our replies to the reviewer comments, and in the further papers.” Correlation is not cause for celebration In a blog post noting the retraction, NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt reflected on the ever-growing catalog of studies claiming to find solar cycles in Earth’s climate. “[T]here has been a long history of people assuming that they 'know' that solar cycles have an effect and then just looking ever more deeply for the mechanism,” he writes. The problem is that if you try enough data sets—of local rather than global temperatures, for example—you can eventually find the cycle correlation you want. Extrapolating that correlation into the future often makes for splashy headlines at outlets that don’t know how to cover science, have a fondness for hype, or both. Schmidt points out that the predictions never seem to pan out. Math, it turns out, won’t tell you much about the behavior of the climate system without some physics behind it. That rub is on full display in the PubPeer discussion of this paper. In response to challenges that the study’s Solar System model contradicts physics, Valentina Zharkova repeatedly seems to argue that their correlation is too good to be wrong. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way. Correlations generate testable hypotheses, and some of those hypotheses will undoubtedly be wrong. It could be that the correlation is explained by something else—including the possibility that the correlation is a meaningless quirk of your data set or statistical method. And in this case, a poorly tested correlational hypothesis was certainly in no position to overturn the positively mountainous pile of physics-based evidence that clearly shows humans have caused modern global warming. No matter how badly some people liked the sound of it. Source: Paper that claimed the Sun caused global warming gets retracted (Ars Technica)
  2. We are entering the Golden Age of studying our Sun "There is no doubt that the observations and insight will be unprecedented." First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 9+ images. The Sun is our closest star, and without it life on our world could not survive. So it is essential to understand its nature. And yet, even though the Sun shines brightly on every clear day on Earth, it is difficult for astronomers to observe the star closely for a number of reasons. Most obviously, it is hot—so hot, it is difficult to get too close without getting burnt to a crisp. Additionally, due to high solar gravity, it requires a lot of energy to insert a spacecraft into an orbit near the Sun. The harsh radiation near the Sun also plays havoc with the scientific instruments on spacecraft. For all of these reasons, while astronomers have made steady progress in understanding the Sun and its effects on Earth, our atmosphere, and other bodies in the Solar System, we still have big questions. The good news is that we are now entering the golden age of Solar research with a major new ground-based telescope and two space-based observatories that will come close to the Sun. "There is no doubt that the observations and insight will be unprecedented—exploring new regions with new instruments in incredible detail," David Alexander, a solar physicist at Rice University and director of its space institute, told Ars. First light in Hawaii You may have seen the amazing images recently released by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, which is located on a mountaintop at 3,084 meters in Maui, Hawaii. With a 4-meter aperture, it is the world's largest solar telescope. The new images were part of the first test observations, with routine science observations set to begin this summer. Images and video of the Sun from the telescope showcase features as small as 30km, the best resolution ever observed. Cell-like structures about the size of Texas—they also look like popcorn, or small nuggets of gold—boil across the Sun's surface, bringing heat from the interior of the star to the surface. This hot plasma then cools slightly and sinks back below the surface of the Sun. It is all rather mesmerizing. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 3 images. This telescope also has scientific instruments that will allow it to measure the magnetic field in the solar corona in great detail. This will help scientists understand more fully how the energy in the Sun’s magnetic field gets released to heat the corona, and drive flares and coronal mass ejections, Alexander said. New probes NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2018, and will eventually pass as close as close to the Sun's surface as seven times the star's radius. This probe has already provided a wealth of new science data, bringing insight into the solar wind, and will only yield more as it spirals closer to the Sun. As early as Sunday night, February 9, the Solar Orbiter built by NASA and the European Space Agency will also launch on an Atlas V vehicle. This spacecraft will not go nearly so close to the Sun as the Parker Solar Probe, but it will reach the orbit of Mercury in terms of proximity and leave the ecliptic to provide scientists with by far their best look at the Sun's poles. (The Ulysses spacecraft, launched in 1990, had a polar orbit but at distances of about 2 to about 5 times Earth's distance from the Sun, and it only possessed a suite of in-situ instruments with no camera). These new probes will build upon astronomers' existing information about the Sun. Already, this body of knowledge has grown considerably over the last decade thanks to instruments such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is in geostationary orbit around the Earth and has provided a great amount of high resolution imaging data. With the three new scientific tools, we are about to have a much more complete view of our Sun as a star, which matters not only for us, but also as we look to worlds around other stars. "Over the course of the next 5 to 10 years we will have a much deeper understanding of the Sun as a star, which can have a significant impact on our understanding of exoplanet environments and as a consequence improve our understanding of what makes a planet habitable," Alexander said. Source: We are entering the Golden Age of studying our Sun (Ars Technica)
  3. At the end of its life, our Sun could end up as a crystal—and physicists now have observational evidence to back up that theory. Scientists have predicted that as white dwarfs cool, they can crystallize in a phase transition somewhat like water freezing into ice. New research from scientists in the UK, U.S., and Canada provides evidence of this transition in a survey of nearby white dwarfs. This is especially interesting to us because, as we’ve reported, scientists predict that our own Sun’s fate is to become a white dwarf. White dwarfs are small, faint, and incredibly dense stars, the result of stars like the Sun running out of the fuel that powers their nuclear fusion. They have masses around that of the Sun but are only around the size of the Earth. They consist of a densely packed plasma of atoms and their electrons. The electrons are forbidden from sharing exact states by the rules of quantum mechanics, so they exert a pressure that keeps the stars from collapsing. Though they’re plasmas, scientists have long predicted that these squished atoms should eventually crystallize, beginning at the stars’ centers. There’s been indirect observation of the crystallization, but scientists now claim to have observed the process directly. They describe their findings in a paper published in Nature. Models suggest that when white dwarfs crystallize, they release heat in order to enter the lower-energy phase, the way heat energy leaves water as it freezes into ice. This would slow down the star’s cooling, an effect that scientists can observe directly. The team analyzed a catalog of 15,109 white dwarf candidates within 100 parsecs (326 light-years) of our Sun using data from the Gaia satellite. And indeed, they found a “pile-up” of stars at certain locations along a plot of color versus brightness. That’s evidence of stars going through the phase transition from plasma to crystal, according to the paper. Obviously, this is dependent on modeling, and perhaps other explanations could explain the data better. But it’s exciting stuff—this would imply that many white dwarfs could be older than scientists thought, since the crystallization slows the aging process. And one day our Sun, too, may be a beautiful crystal ball. And we’ll be dead. Source
  4. New Discovery The galactic nuclei known as quasars are unfathomably bright celestial objects powered by supermassive black holes.. Now, astronomers using some of the most advanced terrestrial and space telescopes in existence think they’ve discovered the brightest quasar ever observed in the early universe — one that shines with the power of 600 trillion Suns. “We don’t expect to find many quasars brighter than that in the whole observable universe,” lead investigator Xiaohui Fan, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. Bright Boy The new quasar is a distant 12.8 light-years away, and the team spotted it using equipment including the Keck Observatory, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, and the Hubble. Fan and his collaborators were only able to detect the quasar, they said, because a galaxy came between it and the Earth — meaning that an effect called gravitational lensing could magnify its light substantially. Phantom Quasar The discovery of the quasar — which has the long-winded name J043947.08+163415.7 — isn’t just notable because of its epic light projection. It’s also a big deal because it provides a window into how huge black holes affected star formation during the early universe. Additionally, it confirms a suspicion long held by astrophysicists and could help guide future research. “This detection is a surprising and major discovery; for decades we thought that these lensed quasars in the early universe should be very common, but this is the first of its kind that we have found,” said Fabio Pacucci, a postdoctoral associate at Yale University who helped discover the new quasar. “It gives us a clue on how to search for ‘phantom quasars’ — sources that are out there, but cannot be really detected yet.” source
  5. By Ian O'Neill Feb 14, 2014 03:20 PM ET A selection of pages from "Harmonia Macrocsmica" by Andreas Cellarius, printed in 1708 depicting the Copernican sun-centered (heliocentric) system of the universe. Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus discovered that the Earth orbits the sun way back in the 16th century. Dear Science Communication Professionals: We have a problem. Earlier this month, the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham creationism “debate” received a disproportionate amount of press coverage. Considering that there really is no debate to be had when it comes to the science of evolution, for bad or for worse, Nye faced a hostile audience at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. He hoped to score some scientific points against Ham’s literal translation of the Bible and his absurd assertion that the world was created in 6 days and that the universe is 6,000 years old. In my opinion, (an opinion shared by other science communicators), the Nye vs. Ham debate did little for science outreach. It was all about who sounded more convincing and only gave creationists some free advertising. And then, today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) delivered news of a pretty shocking poll result: around one in four Americans (yes, that's 25 percent) are unaware that the Earth orbits the sun. Let’s repeat that: One in four Americans — that represents one quarter of the population — when asked probably the most basic question in science (except, perhaps, “Is the Earth flat?” Hint: No.), got the answer incorrect. Suddenly I realized why the Nye vs. Ham debate was so popular. But wait! I hear you cry, perhaps the NSF poll was flawed? Perhaps the poll sample was too small? Sadly not. The NSF poll, which is used to gauge U.S. scientific literacy every year, surveyed 2,200 people who were asked 10 questions about physical and biological sciences. On average, the score was 6.5 out of 10 -- barely a passing grade. But for me personally, the fact that 26 percent of the respondents were unaware the Earth revolves around the sun shocked me to the core. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of the U.S. education system? Perhaps this is just an anomaly; a statistical blip? But then, like the endless deluge of snow that is currently choking the East Coast, another outcome of the same poll appeared on the foggy horizon of scientific illiteracy: The majority of young Americans think astrology is a science. What the what? Have I been transported back to the Dark Ages? Astrology, of course, is not a science; it is a spiritual belief system at best and at worst a pseudoscience driven by charlatans and the tabloid press. The positions of the stars and planets in the sky do not affect my mood and my horoscope has little bearing on the kind of person I am. Even in China, one of the birthplaces of astrology, 92 percent of the people know that astrology is bunk. Really America, get your act together. Unfortunately, if we are to use the “Is astrology a science?” as a litmus test for scientific literacy, things are looking grim. In 2004, 66 percent of the American public said astrology was bunk. Every year since then, that majority has slipped. By 2012, only 55 percent of Americans considered astrology “not at all scientific.” Probably of most concern is the fact that only 42 percent of young respondents aged between 18-24 said astrology is “not at all scientific.” But there is a small glimmer of hope. According to the same NSF poll, the vast majority of Americans seem to love science. Although they returned woeful test results, it seems America is hungry to learn about science and think that science funding is essential for the well-being of the nation. But I’m now concerned about what America thinks science really is, especially in light of that astrology result. Also, just because the U.S. public wants to learn, can they find the institutions that will actually teach real science? Schools across the nation are currently facing the unthinkable notion of teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classrooms. The fact that religion is given the same standing as science is not only absurd, it's a fundamental institutional failing where children (who may be excited to learn about science) will grow up with a second-rate education, neglecting decades of scientific knowledge in favor of pseudo-scientific religious agendas. For a nation that prides itself on science and discovery, it will be a tragedy on a national scale if fundamental science is undercut by superstition and the bad policies it inspires. You can read detailed results of the NSF poll here (PDF). http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/1-in-4-americans-dont-know-earth-orbits-the-sun-yes-really-140214.htm
  6. Apple on Tuesday was awarded a new patent titled “Electronic device display module” that describes a MacBook laptop that would have solar charging abilities as well a secondary, touch-friendly display, AppleInsider reports. Interestingly, the secondary display would be placed on the rear side of the laptop’s main screen, and would offer users access to touch controls, while also housing the device’s solar panels and the company’s iconic logo found on all Mac models. The two-sided display may be built using a combination of materials including metal, ceramic, fiber composites and glass. Electrochromic glass may be used in order to allow light to pass through the rear display, but also to display a logo, a small LCD display and capacitive sensors for touch input. The display could include additional sensors including optical and acoustic, and the combined array would let the users perform various actions such as unlocking a magnetic latch mechanism, control media and other software on the laptop. The rear glass may be translucent or transparent, with the latter option allowing the light to pass through and reach photo voltaic cells that may be placed between the two screens for solar battery charging needs. While the existence of this patent doesn’t guarantee that future MacBook models will offer such features, it further proves Apple’s growing interest in solar power use. The company has many other patents describing ways of charging computers and mobile devices in such a manner, with an analyst expecting future iPhones to pack a sapphire glass display that would include photovoltaic cells. Furthermore, Apple has increased the battery life of its MacBook laptops from generation to generation by using less power-hungry components and optimizing the Mac’s operating system. Source
  7. DesertLoner

    The sun welcomes new year

    The sun ushered out 2013 and welcomed 2014 with two mid-level flares on Dec. 31, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2014. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours. To see how this event may impact Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. The first flare was categorized as an M6.4 and it peaked at 4:58 p.m EST on Dec. 31. The second (above) was categorized as an M9.9 and peaked at 1:52 p.m. EST on Jan. 1. Both flares emerged from the same active region on the sun, AR1936. Imagery of the flares was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, collecting new data every 12 seconds. Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113038342/two-solar-flares-welcome-the-new-year-010314/#fKxl6BW4iZkVqR2S.99
  8. The solar storms that interrupt terrestrial and satellite radio signals, interfering with cell phones and other technologies, have been precisely observed by scientists for the first time. They have also successfully predicted the exact impact times of observed solar storms on Earth, possibly laying the groundwork for avoiding future radio communications and power outages. Using high-res photographs from two spacecraft in tandem with radio burst detecting antennae, scientists at Trinity College Dublin, University College London and the University of Hawaii gained the necessary insight into the fundamental physics of solar storms for predicting the impact times. The results were published in Nature Physics. When a solar storm occurs, the explosions cause electrons to race through space so fast that they create their own radio waves, which accounts for many “randomly” dropped cell phone calls. The same phenomenon can also cause massive power outages, depending on the intensity, as well as the spectacular sight of the Northern Lights. NASA’s STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft were the two Earth orbiters that delivered the images. They collected the images from multiple locations, which allowed the scientists to extrapolate 3D renderings for use in the study. They collated the data using antennae in a “radio-quiet” region of Ireland. SOURCE
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