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2015 December

December 22, 2015

A not-so-modest proposal to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide

Basalt quarry

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Winam.

“The sooner you start socking away part of your paycheck for retirement, the easier it is to hit your goals. If you wait until late in your career to start, your goal could be simply out of reach unless you take a second job or win the lottery.” That axiom is a bit like how we’ve treated carbon emissions: when governments started negotiating to limit greenhouse gases in the early 1990s, the agreed-upon goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius was pretty doable. The continued rise of emissions since then has turned that into a tall task, while the 1.5 degree Celsius aspiration added to the recent Paris agreement is even taller.

At this point, hitting those targets very likely requires more than just shifting away from fossil fuels. We’llalso need “negative emissions”—activities that absorb carbon dioxide from smokestacks or directly from the atmosphere—in order to squeeze under the line. It’s a simple concept but a very big challenge. Some nascent negative emission technologies exist, like capturing CO2 from smokestacks and pumping it into underground reservoirs. Other proposals, however, sound pretty wild and may not work—like dumping iron dust into the oceans to spur plankton growth.

One tempting strategy is to imitate nature’s longterm carbon control—the weathering of fresh rock. When certain minerals react with CO2 in rainwater, they turn into different minerals, and the CO2 turns into bicarbonate that ends up in groundwater, rivers, and ultimately the ocean.

The problem is that this natural process is very slow. To make a dent in the concentration of atmospheric CO2, we’d need thousands of years that we simply don’t have. But what if we could greatly accelerate the process?

For more information, check out Scott K. Johnson’s article from Ars Technica.

December 17, 2015

We’re going to the moon…of Jupiter, Europa!

Europa, moon of Jupiter

Europa as seen by the NASA Galileo spacecraft on September 7, 1996.

New legislation from Congress has approved NASA’s 2016 fiscal year budget of $19.2 billion with a special $175 million designated as a “Jupiter Europa clipper mission” with a target launch date of 2022-2023.

The budget proposal stipulates that, “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept.” In other words, it’s against the law to fly the mission to Europa without a lander.

The initial goal of sending an orbiter was appropriated in the original proposal but Texas Congressman John Culberson pushed for a lander after making regular trips to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California–the team who orchestrated the Curiosity lander mission to Mars. The lander concept however will be difficult to coordinate due to the radiation emanating from Jupiter. The original mission objectives were to stay on the outside of Jupiter’s radiation zone and do a series of fly-bys over the course of three to four years. (For more details on how the lander was incorporated into this mission, click here.)

Europa was originally selected as a candidate to Due to the surface composition of Europa (primarily water-ice with some silicate rock), the clipper mission will orbit the moon’s surface several times to determine the best landing spot.

For more information on the Europa Clipper project, check out this article from Ars Technica.

For more on details about the Europa mission, check out the mission site from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

December 15, 2015

Enceladus and Tethys line up for a great view

Saturn's moons Tethys and Enceladus lined up with rings of Saturn in foreground.

The Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system sent back an image of Enceladus (smaller) and Tethys (larger) against a section of the famous rings of Saturn. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system sent back an image showing the moons Enceladus and Tethys lined up almost perfectly with the probe’s cameras.

According to NASA, since the two moons are not only aligned, but also at relatively similar distances from Cassini, the apparent sizes in this image are a good approximation of the relative sizes of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) and Tethys (660 miles or 1,062 kilometers across).

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from 0.34 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 24, 2015.

The image was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) from Enceladus. Image scale on Enceladus is 7 miles (12 kilometers) per pixel. Tethys was at a distance of 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers) with a pixel scale of 10 miles (16 kilometers) per pixel.

For more information on the Cassini-Huygens mission, click here.

For more pictures from this missions, check out the Cassini Imaging Team’s homepage.


December 11, 2015

New Horizons’ Best View of Pluto is now here.

NASA has just released the highest resolution photographs of the surface of Pluto from the New Horizons flyby (see video above). The images were taken about 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above the surface of Pluto, just 15 minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach.

These are also the highest quality images that the spacecraft will ever send back, because they are lossless, or uncompressed. In contrast, the images that were sent back to Earth this summer were compressed in order to transfer more files faster. In a sense, they acted as preview images intended to show what was still to come when New Horizons had the time to transmit the full data set. (The spacecraft began a year-long process of downloading the remaining data this past September.)

For more information, check out this press release from NASA

December 10, 2015

High quality video footage of Tokyo after World War II

As seen on Open Culture’s website today, the official music video for DJ Boogie Belgique’s song Ms. Yutani was posted since it features footage from post-WWII Tokyo (seen above). All of the footage is showing pedestrians, commuters, and shoppers going about their day. Although the video was uploaded to YouTube over three years ago, it has gained recognition in the digital humanities community recently in order to pinpoint when this footage was taken.

There are some subtle clues in a couple scenes that narrow the date down to some time during the American occupation of Japan (1945-1952). According to Scott Wilson of Rocket News 24, there are references to:

“Hatsu Imai, the first woman elected to the Japanese House of Representatives in 1946” and another for Miracle on 34th Street, originally released in November 1948.”

From those references, he stated:

“The consensus, in any case, seems to call this the Tokyo of the late 1940s…”

Although there are some military vehicles passing through some of the footage, there aren’t any visible traces of the occupation mainly due to the demands of the American censors who were known for frowning upon direct American references.

For more information, check out the remainder of this article at

December 1, 2015

Adobe is telling people to embrace open web standards

HTML5 and Flash icons

Adobe announced November 30th that it will phase out Flash to more fully support HTML5 and other web standards.

In an announcement made yesterday, Adobe is renaming its Flash Professional CC program Animate CC in a move to deprecate Flash in favor of HTML5. Flash creation and support will still be available through Adobe, however, the focus will be on security instead of features due to the increase in the number of its susceptibilities.

Adobe will also release an HTML5 video player for desktop browsers to complement Adobe’s support for HTML5 on mobile devices.

The Verge is reporting that Adobe will see Flash continue to be used as the HTML5 or other standards have yet to fully mature.

For more information, read this announcement from Adobe.