Our Solar System unique?

Though researchers find more and more distant planets revolving around alien suns, the discoveries highlight that Earth and its solar system may be an exceptionally rare place indeed.

That was the consensus here Wednesday evening among five planetary science experts who spoke at the 5th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate held at the American Museum of Natural History. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, moderated the informal discussion. At issue was whether our solar system is special, why it looks the way it does, and how others thus far detected differ. The debate took place between theoretical and observational scientists on the different aspects of detecting and categorizing alien solar systems. About 700 people attended the event.

And the Space.com report summarizes with this:

But with the vast majority of the alien planets found in eccentric orbits, Butler has a different view. “I think with the data at hand, we can say that our solar system is rare. Eccentricity dominates,” said “It’s just a matter of how rare we are,” he added.

And Benedict agrees. “The older I get, the less likely it seems to me there’d be a bunch of places like our solar system,” he said. Or as Tyson added, “There’s no place like home.”

I don’t know what the estimate is, but look out into space on some clear night.  Count the stars you see.  Then, take into consideration that people in the southern hemisphere see a totally different group of stars.  Then, take into consideration that if you waited six months, both you and the people in the southern hemisphere would see a totally different group of stars again.  Out of all those points of light, multiply it by 1,000,000 for all the stars that are too dim to see.  Out of all that number, We have documented about 5,000 planets so far.

So, how do these people justify their conclusion?  Just as aging scientists tend to grow much more conservative with age.  “There’s no place like home” was the scientific conclusion of a little girl lost.  I think the conclusion of this panel is about as the same.  I don’t think there is anything scientifically unique about a mid-sized sun with only one habitable planet circling it.  There may be no place like home to us,. but there are many other homes out there.

Inevitable Global Warming

The study results, published today in the journal Science, indicate that even if greenhouse gas levels had stabilized five years ago, global temperatures would still increase by about half a degree by the end of the century and sea level would rise some 11 centimeters.

This is the “fact” cited in Scientific American and many other publications.  Here are the “editorials” usually attached to the “fact”.

“Many people don’t realize we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere,” says study author Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. “The longer we wait, the more climate change we are committed to in the future.”

Here is the actual NCAR report:

Even if all greenhouse gases had been stabilized in the year 2000, we would still be committed to a warmer Earth and greater sea level rise in the present century, according to a new study by a team of climate modelers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings are published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

Now, I agree with the original comments made by Meehl.  But, I don’t think man’s contributions are enough to amount to anything substantial when put in context of naturally occurring events that dictate climate change.  Secondly, WE ARE NOT CAPABLE OF AFFECTING GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE.  We may be capable of slowing or minimizing man’s affect, but it’s going to happen whether we walk or drive cars.  Period.  The climate will warm, and it will cool.  Man is not in control of the climate, and until man looks at the issue realistically, is not going to come to the proper conclusions we need in regards to climate change.  We don’t need to know that the climate is going to change, I can tell you that unequivocally right now.  What science needs to be doing is figuring out how man can survive most efficiently in the ever changing climate.  There are things man needs to do to make the Earth a better place to live, I’m not against that.  What I am against is the political and scientific debate of whether it is proper to stick our finger in the dike or examine the water and see how it can benefit us.

Move your calendar up

Bet you didn’t know that Spring is coming sooner than most everyone expected.  Yup.  It’ll be here Sunday, not Monday.  Space.com does a great job explaining this:

    1. A year is not an even number of days and neither are the seasons. To try and achieve a value as close as possible to the exact length of the year, our Gregorian Calendar was constructed to give a close approximation to the tropical year which is the actual length of time it takes for the Earth to complete one orbit around the Sun. It eliminates leap days in century years not evenly divisible by 400, such 1700, 1800, and 2100, and millennium years that are divisible by 4,000, such as 8000 and 12000.
    2. Another reason is that the Earth’s elliptical orbit is changing its orientation relative to the Sun (it skews), which causes the Earth’s axis to constantly point in a different direction, called precession. Since the seasons are defined as beginning at strict 90-degree intervals, these positional changes affect the time Earth reaches each 90-degree location in its orbit around the Sun.
    3. The pull of gravity from the other planets also affects the location of the Earth in its orbit.

Something else that is cool that the seasons are changing:

The current seasonal lengths for the Northern Hemisphere are:

Winter 88.994 days
Spring 92.758 days
Summer 93.651 days
Fall 89.942 days

Now this is where it gets cool:

As you can see, the warm seasons, spring and summer, combined are 7.573 days longer than the colder seasons, fall and winter (good news for warm weather admirers).

However, spring is currently being reduced by approximately one minute per year and winter by about one-half minute per year. Summer is gaining the minute lost from spring, and autumn is gaining the half-minute lost from winter. Winter is the shortest astronomical season, and with its seasonal duration continuing to decrease, it is expected to attain its minimum value – 88.71 days – by about the year 3500.

Pretty dang cool. Wonder how many people have considered this in the global warming debate?

Cyclical Melting Ice Caps

The melting of sea ice at the North Pole may be the result of a centuries-old natural cycle and not an indicator of man-made global warming, Scottish scientists have found.

After researching the log-books of Arctic explorers spanning the past 300 years, scientists believe that the outer edge of sea ice may expand and contract over regular periods of 60 to 80 years. This change corresponds roughly with known cyclical changes in atmospheric temperature.

The finding opens the possibility that the recent worrying changes in Arctic sea ice are simply the result of standard cyclical movements, and not a harbinger of major climate change.

The amount of sea ice is currently near its lowest point in the cycle and should begin to increase within about five years.

This makes more sense to me than anything I’ve read in months.  Although the effects of man have been predicted to cause about a 1 degree fahrenheit change in temps, the wobbling of the Earth affects climate more.  The changes in solar activity affect temps more.  A lot of things do.  The Earth has gone through many hot and humid stages and many ice ages well before man started burning coal.  For people to now take those obvious cycles and totally dismiss them and attribute all things climate to the activities of Man is totally disingenuous.  There is a balance somewhere in the middle of Earth’s cycles and man’s affect.  What I want to know is how Man affects that cycle.  If we understand how we fit into that cycle then we know what to expect in 20 years.  Totally ignoring that cycle guarantees those projections will be wrong.  If the Earth is entering into another ice age in five years, global warming will become moot.  We can’t burn enough coal and oil to stop that from happening.  What we will need to do is go to more effective and efficient energy to heat our homes and cities.  Nuclear will become more acceptable as the price explodes due to the increasing demands of cooling temperatures.  That will push Man away from burning fossil fuels a lot faster than any chicken-little warnings from Al Gore.

The Thinning Ozone

A dramatic thinning of Earth’s protective ozone layer above the Arctic last year was the result of intense upper-level winds and an extra dose of space weather, scientists said Tuesday.

Ozone, which screens out some of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, declined by up to 60 percent in the stratosphere over high northern latitudes in the spring of 2004. Officials issued a health warning earlier this year for residents of the far North.

In a new study, scientists conclude that an intense round of solar storms around Halloween in 2003 was at the root of the problem. Charged particles from the storms triggered chemical reactions that increased the formation of extra nitrogen in the upper stratosphere, some 20 miles up. Nitrogen levels climbed to their highest in at least two decades.

A massive low-pressure system that confines air over the Arctic then conspired to deplete ozone.

Wasn’t someone just trying to tell us it was all because of greenhouse gases?

Ditching Dark Matter

Now, for starters, I have never been a fan of dark matter.  It makes no logical sense to me, and, the only practical purpose it served was to explain away what physicists couldn’t otherwise understand.  They had a problem explaining the expanding universe, BAM! enter dark matter.  Never mind that Einstein never needed it.

Then, a while back, I did a little piece on some guys that had made some logical advances on the string theory.  What string theory basically did was explain that everything that doesn’t make sense mathematically really does actually.  You just have to expand the math.

Now, it gets even better:

The theory that the accelerated expansion of the universe is caused by mysterious “dark energy” is being challenged by New York University physicist Georgi Dvali. He thinks there’s just a gravity leak…..

Dvali would modify the theory of gravity so that the universe becomes self-accelerating, eliminating the need for dark energy. He presented his work here earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dvali borrows from string theory, which states that there are extra, hidden dimensions beyond the four we are familiar with: three directions and time. String theory suggests that gravitons — hypothetical elementary particles transmitting gravitational forces — can escape to other dimensions. Dvali says this would cause “leaks” in gravity over cosmic proportions, reducing gravitational pull at larger distances more than expected.

The concept that things are not accelerating, but meeting less resistance from a force we can measure makes a lot more sense to me than a force that does nothing but repel matter.


Enceladus is a small moon of Saturn.  It’s about as dead as they come.  A frozen tundra more hostile than anything imagined on Earth.  And, that’s what makes it beautiful.  Well, when looking at it from here anyway.  The icy shield makes it the most reflective object in the solar system.  If it weren’t so small, you could see it from Earth.  It’s a close neighbor of Titan.  So close, yet so incredibly different.

UPDATE: Going to date this update as of now, 6/26/17, although it’s been known for about a decade. Enceladus is speculated to have liquid under all that ice. It’s pretty much a given. The search for life is pretty much zeroing in right now on Enceladus and Europa.

The benefits of diesel?

The debate over global warming continues to rage.  I have taken the position that the global warmists are a confused lot to say the very least.  What I have been seeking is a coherent set of logical conclusions to explain to me beyond a doubt the the variations in global climate can be documented and proven scientifically to be the fault of man before man is expected to destroy himself economically thereby eliminating his ability to finance the development of newer more efficient and ecologically beneficial sources of energy.  However, every time I get into a “discussion” of the topic, it goes something like this:

This fella Jim at The Motley Fool is taking someone else to task for doubting the validity of evidence presented to justify all the demands of Kyoto and the activists.  Jim is challenging the contention that before the average Joe will accept the sacrifices needed, he has to be convinced beyond any question that it is indeed the fault of man and man can reverse the forces of nature to fix it all.  And, if we did, natural global warming would cease as well.  Of Jim’s LONG rebuttal, he cites this as over-whelming evidence of one of the main things we can do to thwart global warming in the US:

Your second implication is equally wrong. Europeans, for example, use a lot less energy than we do. Heck, just going to diesel alone for autos makes several years’ worth of cuts in greenhouse gases and pollution; no dimunition of lifestyle there.

OK, I’m a fan of diesel, but for a different reason ( less reliance on fossil fuels ).  But, no sooner than Jim makes that argument in support of lessening the impact of global warming, we get this:

Pollution from diesel engines is expected to shorten the lives of 21,000 Americans by the year 2010, according to a new report.

In addition to 3,000 deaths from lung cancer alone, diesel soot also contributes to an estimated 15,000 hospital admissions, 27,000 nonfatal heart attacks, and more than 400,000 asthma attacks each year, concludes the report, published by the Clean Air Task Force.

“This makes it one of the most significant public health risks out there,” says Conrad Schneider, the group’s advocacy director and a co-author of the report.

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to begin enforcing diesel rules in 2007 that will force new trucks, buses, farm equipment, and heavy machinery to use particle filters and cleaner fuel technology. The rules are designed to cut total diesel emissions by 90% over the next several years.

This is just yet another example of the muddled argument that is global warming.

Bright Galactic Flash

A huge explosion halfway across the galaxy packed so much power it briefly altered Earth’s upper atmosphere in December, astronomers said Friday.

The blast originated about 50,000 light-years away and was detected Dec. 27. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

“Had this happened within 10 light-years of us, it would have severely damaged our atmosphere and possibly have triggered a mass extinction,” said Bryan Gaensler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Dang, as usual. I totally missed it.  Definitely click on the link and read the whole story. It’s an interesting read in its entirety.  What’s cool to think about IMO, is that something so far away could have an impact on Earth.  The universe just gets smaller every day.

Benefits of coffee

I recently bemoaned the political correctness of the science community in regards to its lynch mob mentality.  One of the things I cited was the over-reaction and sheer hysteria over drinking coffee when I was a kid.  It would give you cancer.  Now, we’re getting this:

Can Coffee Protect Against Common Cancers?

Two New Studies Show Coffee Guards Against Liver and Colon Cancer.

I think science in general needs to study ALL the angles before making rash statements.  Especially when there’s political pressure applied.  I’d hate to think what I’d feel like right now if I had given up coffee in 1981 and now had colon cancer.