‘Diamond rain’ on Uranus and Neptune seems likely
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This illustration shows the diamond rain on Neptune. (Image credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

By , Live Science

The ice giants Uranus and Neptune don’t get nearly enough press; all the attention goes to their larger siblings, mighty Jupiter and magnificent Saturn.

At first glance, Uranus and Neptune are just bland, boring balls of uninteresting molecules. But hiding beneath the outer layers of those worlds, there may be something spectacular: a constant rain of diamonds.

“ice giants” may conjure the image of a Tolkien-esque creature, but it’s the name astronomers use to categorize the outermost planets of the solar system, Uranus and Neptune.

Confusingly, though, the name has nothing to do with ice in the sense you would normally recognize it — as in, say, ice cubes in your drink. The distinction comes from what these planets are made of. The gas giants of the system, Jupiter and Saturn, are made almost entirely of gas: hydrogen and helium. It’s through the rapid accretion of those elements that these huge planets managed to swell to their current size.

In contrast, Uranus and Neptune are made mostly of water, ammonia and methane. Astronomers commonly call these molecules “ices,” but there really isn’t a good reason for it, except that when the planets first formed, those elements were likely in solid form.

Into the (not so) icy depths
Deep beneath the green or blue cloud tops of Uranus and Neptune, there’s a lot of water, ammonia and methane. But these ice giants likely have rocky cores surrounded by elements that are probably compressed into exotic quantum states. At some point, that quantum weirdness transitions into a super-pressurized “soup” that generally thins out the closer you get to the surface.

But truth be told, we don’t know a lot about the interiors of the ice giants. The last time we got close-up data of those two worlds was three decades ago, when Voyager 2 whizzed by in its historic mission.

Since then, Jupiter and Saturn have played host to multiple orbiting probes, yet our views of Uranus and Neptune have been limited to telescope observations.

To try to understand what’s inside those planets, astronomers and planetary scientists have to take that meager data and combine it with laboratory experiments that try to replicate the conditions of those planets’ interiors. Plus, they use some good old-fashioned math — a lot of it. Mathematical modeling helps astronomers understand what’s happening in a given situation based on limited data.

And it’s through that combination of mathematical modeling and laboratory experiments that we realized Uranus and Neptune might have so-called diamond rain.

Click here to read the full article on Live Science.

Crucial Antarctic ice shelf could fail within five years, scientists say
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An ITGC field site on Thwaites Glacier. (Peter Davis/British Antarctic Survey)

By Sarah Kaplan, The Washington Post

Scientists have discovered a series of worrying weaknesses in the ice shelf holding back one of Antarctica’s most dangerous glaciers, suggesting that this important buttress against sea level rise could shatter within the next three to five years.

Until recently, the ice shelf was seen as the most stable part of Thwaites Glacier, a Florida-sized frozen expanse that already contributes about 4 percent of annual global sea level rise. Because of this brace, the eastern portion of Thwaites flowed more slowly than the rest of the notorious “doomsday glacier.”

But new data show that the warming ocean is eroding the eastern ice shelf from below. Satellite images taken as recently as last month and presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union show several large, diagonal cracks extending across the floating ice wedge.

These weak spots are like cracks in a windshield, said Oregon State University glaciologist Erin Pettit. One more blow and they could spiderweb across the entire ice shelf surface.

“This eastern ice shelf is likely to shatter into hundreds of icebergs,” she said. “Suddenly the whole thing would collapse.”

The failure of the shelf would not immediately accelerate global sea level rise. The shelf already floats on the ocean surface, taking up the same amount of space whether it is solid or liquid.

But when the shelf fails, the eastern third of Thwaites Glacier will triple in speed, spitting formerly landlocked ice into the sea. Total collapse of Thwaites could result in several feet of sea level rise, scientists say, endangering millions of people in coastal areas.

“It’s upwardly mobile in terms of how much ice it could put into the ocean in the future as these processes continue,” said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a leader of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC). He spoke to reporters via Zoom from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica, where he is awaiting a flight to his field site atop the crumbling ice shelf.

“Things are evolving really rapidly here,” Scambos added. “It’s daunting.”

Pettit and Scambos’s observations also show that the warming ocean is loosening the ice shelf’s grip on the underwater mountain that helps it act as a brace against the ice river at its back. Even if the fractures don’t cause the shelf to disintegrate, it is likely to become completely unmoored from the seafloor within the next decade.

Other researchers from the ITGC revealed chaos in the “grounding zone” where the land-bound portion of the glacier connects to the floating shelf that extends out over the sea. Ocean water there is hot, by Antarctic standards, and where it enters crevasses it can create “hot spots” of melting.

Without its protective ice shelf, scientists fear that Thwaites may become vulnerable to ice cliff collapse, a process in which towering walls of ice that directly overlook the ocean start to crumble into the sea.

Click here to read the full article on the Washington Post.

Ketchup on Mars: Heinz preps for a future with condiments on the red planet
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Heinz Ketchup Bottle in space

By , C|Net

Matt Damon in The Martian was one letter off. Instead of potatoes, he should have been growing tomatoes, with an eye toward making space-ketchup. Because what’s the point of French fries on Mars if you don’t have anything to dip them in?

Heinz, a brand of ketchup you may have heard of, enlisted a team of astrobiologists to answer the most pressing question of our time: Will future human settlers on Mars be able to make their own ketchup?

Heinz collaborated with 14 astrobiologists at the Aldrin Space Institute at Florida Tech to grow tomatoes in a simulated Martian soil.

“The team successfully yielded a crop of Heinz tomatoes, from the brand’s proprietary tomato seeds, with the exacting qualities that pass the rigorous quality and taste standards to become its iconic ketchup,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

You can’t buy a bottle of the Heinz Marz Edition ketchup, but you can take comfort in knowing your great-great-(great?)-grandchildren living inside their Muskville domes on the red planet will be able to slather some of the good stuff on their burger buns.

While this is a clever bit of marketing, there was also some serious science happening.

“Before now, most efforts around discovering ways to grow in Martian-simulated conditions are short-term plant growth studies. What this project has done is look at long-term food harvesting. Achieving a crop that is of a quality to become Heinz Tomato Ketchup was the dream result and we achieved it,” said astrobiologist Andrew Palmer, who led the two-year project.

Click here to read the full article on C|Net.

Chevron Pledges Net-Zero Operational Emissions By 2050
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Chevron has set a target to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 for equity upstream Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

By Bojan Lepic, Rigzone

USA-based supermajor Chevron has set a target to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050 for equity upstream Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Chevron issued an updated climate change resilience report that further details the company’s ambition to advance our lower-carbon future.

The company adopted a 2050 net-zero aspiration for equity upstream Scope 1 and 2 emissions. It is worth noting that unlike many other major companies like Shell and Eni, Chevron did not include greenhouse gases from all fuel products they sell or scope 3 in its net-zero pledge.

But, in its TCFD-aligned report, it describes how the company is incorporating Scope 3 emissions into its greenhouse gas emission targets by establishing a Portfolio Carbon Intensity (PCI) target inclusive of Scope 1 and 2 as well as Scope 3 emissions from the use of its products.

“Solutions start with problem-solving, which is exactly what the people of Chevron do – and have excelled at for over 140 years,” said Michael Wirth, Chevron’s chairman and CEO. “This report offers further insights about our strategy, how we are investing in lower-carbon businesses and why we believe this is an exciting time to be in the energy industry.”

Chevron’s new PCI target assists with transparent carbon accounting and company comparison from publicly available data. The target covers the full value chain, including Scope 3 emissions from the use of products.

The oil major, which last month pledged to triple its investments to $10 billion to reduce its carbon emissions footprint, set a greater than 5 percent carbon emissions intensity reduction target from 2016 levels by 2028.

This target is aligned with Chevron’s strategy which allows flexibility to grow its traditional business, provided it remains increasingly carbon-efficient, and pursue growth in lower-carbon businesses. The company plans to publish a PCI methodology document and online tool to enable third parties to calculate PCI for energy companies.

According to Chevron, its 2050 equity upstream Scope 1 and 2 net-zero aspiration builds on the company’s disciplined approach to target setting and action. Chevron anticipates that the path to this net-zero aspiration would include partnerships with multiple stakeholders and progress in technology, policy, regulations, and offset markets.

Click here to read the full article on Rigzone.

7 ways Einstein changed the world
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black and white photo of einstein looking at the camera

By , Live Science

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is one of the most famous scientists of all time, and his name has become almost synonymous with the word “genius.”

While his reputation owes something to his eccentric appearance and occasional pronouncements on philosophy, world politics and other non-scientific topics, his real claim to fame comes from his contributions to modern physics, which have changed our entire perception of the universe and helped shape the world we live in today.

Here’s a look at some of the world-changing concepts we owe to Einstein.

Space-time

One of Einstein’s earliest achievements, at the age of 26, was his theory of special relativity — so-called because it deals with relative motion in the special case where gravitational forces are neglected. This may sound innocuous, but it was one of the greatest scientific revolutions in history, completely changing the way physicists think about space and time. In effect, Einstein merged these into a single space-time continuum. One reason we think of space and time as being completely separate is because we measure them in different units, such as miles and seconds, respectively. But Einstein showed how they are actually interchangeable, linked to each other through the speed of light — approximately 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second).

Perhaps the most famous consequence of special relativity is that nothing can travel faster than light. But it also means that things start to behave very oddly as the speed of light is approached. If you could see a spaceship that was traveling at 80% the speed of light, it would look 40% shorter than when it appeared at rest. And if you could see inside, everything would appear to move in slow motion, with a clock taking 100 seconds to tick through a minute, according to Georgia State University’s HyperPhysics website. This means the spaceship’s crew would actually age more slowly the faster they are traveling.

E = mc^2

An unexpected offshoot of special relativity was Einstein’s celebrated equation E = mc^2, which is likely the only mathematical formula to have reached the status of cultural icon. The equation expresses the equivalence of mass (m) and energy (E), two physical parameters previously believed to be completely separate. In traditional physics, mass measures the amount of matter contained in an object, whereas energy is a property the object has by virtue of its motion and the forces acting on it. Additionally, energy can exist in the complete absence of matter, for example in light or radio waves. However, Einstein’s equation says that mass and energy are essentially the same thing, as long as you multiply the mass by c^2 — the square of the speed of light, which is a very big number — to ensure it ends up in the same units as energy.

This means that an object gains mass as it moves faster, simply because it’s gaining energy. It also means that even an inert, stationary object has a huge amount of energy locked up inside it. Besides being a mind-blowing idea, the concept has practical applications in the world of high-energy particle physics. According to the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN), if sufficiently energetic particles are smashed together, the energy of the collision can create new matter in the form of additional particles.

Lasers

Lasers are an essential component of modern technology and are used in everything from barcode readers and laser pointers to holograms and fiber-optic communication. Although lasers are not commonly associated with Einstein, it was ultimately his work that made them possible. The word laser, coined in 1959, stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” — and stimulated emission is a concept Einstein developed more than 40 years earlier, according to the American Physical Society. In 1917, Einstein wrote a paper on the quantum theory of radiation that described, among other things, how a photon of light passing through a substance could stimulate the emission of further photons.

Einstein realized that the new photons travel in the same direction, and with the same frequency and phase, as the original photon. This results in a cascade effect as more and more virtually identical photons are produced. As a theoretician, Einstein didn’t take the idea any further, while other scientists were slow to recognize the enormous practical potential of stimulated emission. But the world got there in the end, and people are still finding new applications for lasers today, from anti-drone weapons to super-fast computers.

Black holes and wormholes

Einstein’s theory of special relativity showed that space-time can do some pretty weird things even in the absence of gravitational fields. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as Einstein discovered when he finally succeeded in adding gravity into the mix, in his theory of general relativity. He found that massive objects like planets and stars actually distort the fabric of space-time, and it’s this distortion that produces the effects we perceive as gravity.

Einstein explained general relativity through a complex set of equations, which have an enormous range of applications. Perhaps the most famous solution to Einstein’s equations came from Karl Schwarzschild’s solution in 1916 — a black hole. Even weirder is a solution that Einstein himself developed in 1935 in collaboration with Nathan Rosen, describing the possibility of shortcuts from one point in space-time to another. Originally dubbed Einstein-Rosen bridges, these are now known to all fans of science fiction by the more familiar name of wormholes.

The expanding universe

One of the first things Einstein did with his equations of general relativity, back in 1915, was to apply them to the universe as a whole. But the answer that came out looked wrong to him. It implied that the fabric of space itself was in a state of continuous expansion, pulling galaxies along with it so the distances between them were constantly growing. Common sense told Einstein that this couldn’t be true, so he added something called the cosmological constant to his equations to produce a well-behaved, static universe.

But in 1929, Edwin Hubble’s observations of other galaxies showed that the universe really is expanding, apparently in just the way that Einstein’s original equations predicted. It looked like the end of the line for the cosmological constant, which Einstein later described as his biggest blunder. That wasn’t the end of the story, however. Based on more refined measurements of the expansion of the universe, we now know that it’s speeding up, rather than slowing down as it ought to in the absence of a cosmological constant. So it looks as though Einstein’s “blunder” wasn’t such an error after all.

Click here to read the full article on Live Science.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022
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    February 9, 2022
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    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
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    February 22, 2022
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