Icy mountains of dwarf planet Pluto

This 21 June 2019 video says about itself:

The Ice Mountains of Pluto | The Planets | BBC Earth

Brian Cox takes us to the frozen landscapes of Pluto, the furthest world from the sun in our solar system.


Sunset timelapse video from space

This 3 June 2019 NASA video says about itself:

Sunset Timelapse from the International Space Station

Enjoy this sped-up Earth view, captured by the Expedition 59 astronauts currently onboard the International Space Station. The station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes — meaning this sunset you see is actually one of 16 the station residents see each day!

Human ancestors walked upright because of supernovae?

This 2017 video says about itself:

What is a Supernova?

Astronimate takes you on a fascinating journey through the mysterious life and violent death of a star, a supernova! Learn what causes a supernova, different types of supernovas, history and even future of exploding stars in our own home Milky Way galaxy!

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

Did ancient supernovae prompt human ancestors to walk upright?

May 28, 2019

Did ancient supernovae induce proto-humans to walk on two legs, eventually resulting in Homo sapiens with hands free to build cathedrals, design rockets and snap iPhone selfies?

A paper published today in the Journal of Geology makes the case: Supernovae bombarded Earth with cosmic energy starting as many as 8 million years ago, with a peak some 2.6 million years ago, initiating an avalanche of electrons in the lower atmosphere and setting off a chain of events that feasibly ended with bipedal hominins such as Homo habilis, dubbed “handy man.”

The authors believe atmospheric ionization probably triggered an enormous upsurge in cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that ignited forest fires around the globe. These infernos could be one reason ancestors of Homo sapiens developed bipedalism — to adapt in savannas that replaced torched forests in northeast Africa.

“It is thought there was already some tendency for hominins to walk on two legs, even before this event,” said lead author Adrian Melott, professor emeritus of physics & astronomy at the University of Kansas. “But they were mainly adapted for climbing around in trees. After this conversion to savanna, they would much more often have to walk from one tree to another across the grassland, and so they become better at walking upright. They could see over the tops of grass and watch for predators. It’s thought this conversion to savanna contributed to bipedalism as it became more and more dominant in human ancestors.”

Based on a “telltale” layer of iron-60 deposits lining the world’s sea beds, astronomers have high confidence supernovae exploded in Earth’s immediate cosmic neighborhood — between 100 and only 50 parsecs (163 light years) away — during the transition from the Pliocene Epoch to the Ice Age.

“We calculated the ionization of the atmosphere from cosmic rays which would come from a supernova about as far away as the iron-60 deposits indicate,” Melott said. “It appears that this was the closest one in a much longer series. We contend it would increase the ionization of the lower atmosphere by 50-fold. Usually, you don’t get lower-atmosphere ionization because cosmic rays don’t penetrate that far, but the more energetic ones from supernovae come right down to the surface — so there would be a lot of electrons being knocked out of the atmosphere.”

According to Melott and co-author Brian Thomas of Washburn University, ionization in the lower atmosphere meant an abundance of electrons would form more pathways for lightning strikes.

“The bottom mile or so of atmosphere gets affected in ways it normally never does,” Melott said. “When high-energy cosmic rays hit atoms and molecules in the atmosphere, they knock electrons out of them — so these electrons are running around loose instead of bound to atoms. Ordinarily, in the lightning process, there’s a buildup of voltage between clouds or the clouds and the ground — but current can’t flow because not enough electrons are around to carry it. So, it has to build up high voltage before electrons start moving. Once they’re moving, electrons knock more electrons out of more atoms, and it builds to a lightning bolt. But with this ionization, that process can get started a lot more easily, so there would be a lot more lightning bolts.”

The KU researcher said the probability that this lightning spike touched off a worldwide upsurge in wildfires is supported by the discovery of carbon deposits found in soils that correspond with the timing of the cosmic-ray bombardment.

“The observation is that there’s a lot more charcoal and soot in the world starting a few million years ago,” Melott said. “It’s all over the place, and nobody has any explanation for why it would have happened all over the world in different climate zones. This could be an explanation. That increase in fires is thought to have stimulated the transition from woodland to savanna in a lot of places — where you had forests, now you had mostly open grassland with shrubby things here and there. That’s thought to be related to human evolution in northeast Africa. Specifically, in the Great Rift Valley where you get all these hominin fossils.”

Melott said no such event is likely to occur again anytime soon. The nearest star capable of exploding into a supernova in the next million years is Betelgeuse, some 200 parsecs (652 light years) from Earth.

“Betelgeuse is too far away to have effects anywhere near this strong,” Melott said. “So, don’t worry about this. Worry about solar proton events. That’s the danger for us with our technology — a solar flare that knocks out electrical power. Just imagine months without electricity.”

Climate change, science and activism

This 23 May 2019 video from New Zealand says about itself:

Students skip school for climate change strike

Thousands of children called on adults to get real about climate change in mass protests around the country today

From Penn State university in the USA:

Marching [against] climate change may sway people’s beliefs and actions

May 23, 2019

Americans have a long tradition of taking to the streets to protest or to advocate for things they believe in. New research suggests that when it comes to climate change, these marches may indeed have a positive effect on the public.

A team including Penn State researchers found that people tended to be more optimistic about people’s ability to work together to address climate change and have better impressions of people who participated in marches after the March for Science and the People’s Climate March in the spring of 2017.

Janet Swim, professor of psychology at Penn State, said the findings suggest that climate change marches can have positive effects on bystanders.

“Marches serve two functions: to encourage people to join a movement and to enact change,” Swim said. “This study is consistent with the idea that people who participate in marches can gain public support, convince people that change can occur, and also normalize the participants themselves.”

Swim added that recent research has shown that marches are becoming more prevalent in the US, not just [against] climate change but for many issues. She and her coauthors, Nathaniel Geiger from Indiana University, and Michael Lengieza from Penn State, were interested in learning more about whether marches are effective at changing psychological predictors of joining movements.

“There are several measures that predict people engaging and taking action in the future,” Swim said. “One of those is collective efficacy — the belief that people can work together to enact change. People don’t want to do something if it’s not going to have an effect. We were interested in whether marches increased this sense of efficacy, that once you see other people do something, you might think yes, it’s possible.”

For the study, the researchers recruited 587 bystanders — people who did not participate in the march but observed it through the media. 302 participants completed a survey the day before the March for Science held on April 22, 2017, and 285 completed a survey several days after the People’s Climate March held on April 29, 2017.

The surveys asked participants how much they knew about the marches, their impressions of the people who participated in the marches, and whether they believed people could work together to reduce climate change, among other measures.

“Activists are often seen negatively — that they’re arrogant or eccentric or otherwise outside of the norm,” Swim said. “There’s a fine line between marchers and other activists expressing themselves and raising awareness of their cause, while also not confirming negative stereotypes. So, one of our questions was whether marches increase or decrease people’s negative impressions of marchers.”

Because the researchers were also interested in how media coverage contributed to outcomes, they also noted the participants’ preferred news sources and coded whether the sources were generally more conservative or liberal.

The researchers found that after the People’s Climate March, study participants were more optimistic about people’s ability to work together to address climate change — referred to as collective efficacy beliefs. They also found that study participants had less negative opinions of marchers after the march.

Additionally, the researchers found that participants who regularly consumed news from conservative media had more collective efficacy beliefs and intent to take action after the marches. Those who regularly got news from liberal media tended to have less negative impressions of marchers, particularly among those who reported having heard about the marches.

Swim said that because they controlled for such factors as political affiliation and beliefs, these changes were likely due to the way their preferred media sources portrayed the marches before and after the events.

“If conservative news sources only talk the march after the fact, that might be why their viewers have more efficacy afterwards, because they didn’t know about it before,” Swim said. “Additionally, a more liberal news source may portray marchers as more sympathetic, which may be why their viewers had more favorable impressions of marchers.”

In future, Swim said she would like to further study how news and other media sources contribute to people’s beliefs about climate change. For example, a content analysis that helps tease apart whether it is how much coverage a march gets that contributes to changes in beliefs or whether it is how the marches and marchers are portrayed that matters.

Nathaniel Geiger, Assistant Professor of Environmental Communications from Indiana University, Michael L. Lengieza, graduate student in Psychology from Penn State, and also participated in this work.

This video is called Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment. Documentary 2018 HD.

From the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Advanced Computing Center in the USA:

GRACE data contribute to understanding of climate change

Expanded investigation through 2021 to be highly dependent on TACC supercomputing systems

May 23, 2019

The University of Texas at Austin team that led a twin satellite system launched in 2002 to take detailed measurements of the Earth, called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), reports in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Climate Change on the contributions that their nearly two decades of data have made to our understanding of global climate patterns.

Among the many contributions that GRACE has made:

  • GRACE recorded three times the mass of ice lost in the polar and mountainous regions since first beginning measurements — a consequence of global warming.
  • GRACE enabled a measure of the quantity of heat added to the ocean and the location for said heat that remains stored in the ocean. GRACE has provided detailed observations, confirming that the majority of the warming occurs in the upper 2,000 meters of the oceans.
  • GRACE has observed that of the 37 largest land-based aquifers, 13 have undergone critical mass loss. This loss, due to both a climate-related effect and an anthropogenic (human-induced) effect, documents the reduced availability of clean, fresh water supplies for human consumption.
  • The information gathered from GRACE provides vital data for the federal agency United States Drought Monitor and has shed light on the causes of drought and aquifer depletion in places worldwide, from India to California.

Intended to last just five years in orbit for a limited, experimental mission to measure small changes in the Earth’s gravitational fields, GRACE operated for more than 15 years and has provided unprecedented insight into our global water resources, from more accurate measurements of polar ice loss to a better view of the ocean currents, and the rise in global sea levels. The mission was a collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Centre and was led by researchers in the Center for Space Research (CSR) in UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has played a critical role in this international project over the last 15 years, according to Byron Tapley, the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair Emeritus in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics who established the Center for Space Research at UT in 1981 and who served as principal investigator of the GRACE mission.

“As the demand for the GRACE science deliverables have grown, TACC’s ability to support these demands have grown. It has been a seamless transition to a much richer reporting environment,” he said.

By measuring changes in mass that cause deviations in the strength of gravity’s pull on the Earth’s various systems — water systems, ice sheets, atmosphere, land movements, and more — the satellites can measure small changes in the Earth system interactions.

“By monitoring the physical components of the Earth’s dynamical system as a whole, GRACE provides a time variable and holistic overview of how our oceans, atmosphere and land surface topography interact,” Tapley said.

The data system for the mission is highly distributed and requires significant data storage and computation through an internationally distributed network. Although the final data products for the CSR solutions are generated at TACC, there is considerable effort in Germany by the Geophysics Center in Potsdam and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The final CSR analysis at TACC starts with a data downlink from the satellites to a raw data collection center in Germany. The data is then transmitted to JPL where the primary measurements are converted into the geophysical measurements consisting of GPS, accelerometer, attitude quaternions, and the high accuracy intersatellite ranging measurements collected by each satellite during a month-long observation span.

“The collection of information from this international community are brought together by the fundamental computing capability and the operational philosophy at TACC to undergo the challenging data analysis required to obtain the paradigm-shifting view of the Earth’s interactions,” Tapley said.

Despite being a risky venture operating on minimal funding, the GRACE mission surpassed all expectations and continues to provide a critical set of measurements.

“The concept of using the changing gravimetric patterns on Earth as a means to understanding major changes in the Earth system interactions had been proposed before,” Tapley said. “But we were the first to make it happen at a measurement level that supported the needs of the diverse Earth-science community.”

One of the remarkable benefits of working with TACC, according to Tapley, is the ability to pose questions whose solutions would have not been feasible prior to TACC and to find the capability to answer the questions.

“As an example, when we began the GRACE mission, our capability was looking at gravity models that were characterized by approximately 5,000 model parameters, whose solution was obtained at approximately yearly analysis intervals. The satellite-only GRACE models today are based on approximately 33,000 parameters that we have the ability to determine at a daily interval. In the final re-analysis of the GRACE data, we’re looking to expand this parameterization to 4,000,000 parameters for the mean model. The interaction with TACC has always been in the context of: ‘If the answer to a meaningful question requires extensive computations, let’s find a way to satisfy that requirement,'” Tapley said.

Now that the GRACE Follow-On mission, which the CSR will continue to play a role in, has launched successfully, the chance to continue the GRACE record for a second multi-decadal measurement of changes in mass across the Earth system is possible. Engineers and scientists anticipate that the longer data interval will allow them to see an even clearer picture of how the planet’s climate patterns behave over time.

Space satellites’ discoveries on animals

This 29 April 2019 video about the Antarctic says about itself:

Filming Animals From Space Leads to Incredible Discoveries | Earth From Space | BBC Earth

Satellites filming animals from space lead to unexpected discoveries, from a seal birth to colonies of albatrosses and penguins.

First ever black hole photo

This 10 April 2019 video says about itself:

First-Ever Black Hole Image Released

The Event Horizon Telescope captured an image of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

From USA Today today:

It’s our first glimpse of one of the weirdest spectacles in the universe. Astronomers on Wednesday released humanity’s first-ever image of a black hole.

The picture reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. It looked like a flaming orange, yellow and black ring.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable. We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole,” said Sheperd Doeleman, Event Project Horizon project director of Harvard University. “This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers.”

This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

The image helps confirm Einstein’s general relativity theory. Einstein a century ago even predicted the symmetrical shape that scientists just found.

See also here. And here.

Black hole image validates imagining the unimaginable. Long dreamed of yet unseen, invisible stars intrigued scientists and the public as well, by Tom Siegfried. 6:00am, April 12, 2019

Astronomers help counting orangutans

This 9 April 2019 video says about itself:

How to count orangutans | WWF from the field

Borneo is home to the critically endangered Orangutan. With population numbers around 100,000 there are huge conservation efforts being made to combat their two main threats; forest loss and hunting.

Traditionally, orangutan numbers are estimated by counting their nests from the ground, but this can be costly, and very time consuming. Our collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University tested how effective new thermal imaging drone technology would be to count the critically endangered orangutan.

Read more here.

From the British Ecological Society:

Astro-ecology: Counting orangutans using star-spotting technology

A collaboration between astrophysicists, conservationists and ecologists aims to save rare and endangered animals

April 9, 2019

A ground-breaking scientific collaboration is harnessing technology used to study the luminosity of stars, to carry out detailed monitoring of orangutan populations in Borneo. Liverpool John Moores University, WWF and HUTAN came together to examine better ways of detecting the great apes in the Bornean forest canopy, by using drones fitted with thermal-imaging cameras.

Orangutans, like all great apes, build a sleeping nest in trees. Traditionally orangutan numbers are estimated by counting these nests from the ground. However, this method is costly and time consuming due to the large areas that need to be surveyed.

Drones can cover large areas of difficult ground quickly and monitor endangered wildlife from above. The addition of thermal-imaging cameras has even more benefits, as a new study shows: They can detect difficult to find animals at any time of day or night because of their heat signatures. The field team conducted 28 flights at two sites over six days and successfully spotted 41 orangutans from the air, all of which were confirmed by ground observers.

“All orangutan species are critically endangered and monitoring their numbers is crucial for their conservation,” said Professor Serge Wich, Liverpool John Moores University’s expert in primate behavioural ecology.

By combining drone technology with thermal-imaging cameras, which are usually used by astronomers, researchers were able to spot and classify the animals’ heat signatures. To distinguish the primates from their surroundings, they performed flights before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m. local time.

Dr Claire Burke, an astro-ecologist at the university, who will present the findings at the ‘Unifying Tropical Ecology’ conference in Edinburgh today said:

“We tested the technology on orangutans in the dense tropical rainforest of Sabah in Malaysia. In thermal images, animals shine in a similar way to stars and galaxies, so we used techniques from astronomy to detect and distinguish them. We were not sure at all whether this would work, but with the thermal-infrared camera we could see the orangutans quite clearly because of their body heat, even during fog or at night.”

Dr Burke added:

“The biggest difficulties occur when the temperature of the ground is very similar to that of the animal we are trying to detect, so the images from morning or evening flights are more reliable. Absolute surface temperatures cannot be used to differentiate species as animal body temperatures change with that of their environment.”

This innovative technology could potentially be used to understand and monitor population numbers of orangutans or other endangered primate species.

Nicola Loweth, Asian Programme Manager at WWF, who was on the Bornean study said:

“As ever more species are decimated, due to human activity such as deforestation, we must embrace and scale up innovative approaches to monitoring wildlife populations, to better protect them for generations to come.

Our collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University to test the feasibility of thermal-imaging and drone technology to monitor orangutan populations in Sabah has proven promising and could have a wide range of applications, benefiting wildlife conservation as a whole.”

The team also spotted a troop of proboscis monkeys during the field trial, which they were able to distinguish from orangutans based on their smaller size. Besides that, proboscis monkeys are generally found in groups, whereas orangutans tend to be solitary or in pairs. Pygmy elephants were also captured on a night-time forage through an oil palm plantation.

The astro-ecologists are now developing a machine learning algorithm to tell animal species apart, based on their unique thermal fingerprint.

“In the future, we hope to be able to track, distinguish and monitor large numbers of different species of animals in real time, all around the globe, so that this technology can be used to make a real impact on conservation and stop poaching before it happens,” Dr Burke concluded.

The group previously tested the technology with spider monkeys in Mexico and riverine rabbits in South Africa and will soon be embarking on a field study with the Lac Alaotra bamboo lemurs in Madagascar.

The ‘Unifying Tropical Ecology’ conference in Edinburgh is organised by the British Ecological Society and Society for Tropical Ecology (gtö). There will be an entire session on the use of drones for animal and plant monitoring, including a presentation of the ‘Orangutan Nest Watch’ project where citizen scientists can help researchers look through images to spot orangutans and fig trees.

British transport union TSSA adopts orangutan to highlight palm oil dangers: here.