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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Earth and Moon as Seen from Mars

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera would make a great backyard telescope for viewing Mars, and we can also use it at Mars to view other planets. This is an image of Earth and the moon, acquired on October 3, 2007, by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

At the time the image was taken, Earth was 142 million kilometers (88 million miles) from Mars, giving the HiRISE image a scale of 142 kilometers (88 miles) per pixel, an Earth diameter of about 90 pixels and a moon diameter of 24 pixels. The phase angle is 98 degrees, which means that less than half of the disk of the Earth and the disk of the moon have direct illumination. We could image Earth and moon at full disk illumination only when they are on the opposite side of the sun from Mars, but then the range would be much greater and the image would show less detail.

On the day this image was taken, the Japanese Kayuga (Selene) spacecraft was en route from the Earth to the moon, and has since returned spectacular images and movies (see http://www.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/selene/index_e.html).

On the Earth image we can make out the west coast outline of South America at lower right, although the clouds are the dominant features. These clouds are so bright, compared with the moon, that they are saturated in the HiRISE images. In fact the red-filter image was almost completely saturated, the Blue-Green image had significant saturation, and the brightest clouds were saturated in the infrared image. This color image required a fair amount of processing to make a nice-looking release. The moon image is unsaturated but brightened relative to Earth for this composite. The lunar images are useful for calibration of the camera.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

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Hydrogen Sulfide May Kill Us, Bring Us Back to Life

Peter Ward tells the crowd at TED 2008 about the perils of hydrogen sulfide, which he says wiped out 90 percent of Earth's species during the Permian period.
Courtesy Ted Conferences

Millions of years before the dinosaurs were apparently killed by an asteroid hitting our planet, the Earth experienced another mass extinction that was far more devastating. The cause for that, paleontologist Peter Ward says, was actually homegrown: Hydrogen sulfide in the oceans and atmosphere turned the sky green and choked off oxygen for plants, animals and marine life.

Ward, who teaches at the University of Washington and who spoke at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference last week, says that global warming caused by humans could reproduce the same hydrogen sulfide gas conditions that killed more than 90 percent of life during the Permian period, when the extinction occurred. And we might just do it faster than nature did.

Ward, who published a book about the extinctions last year called Under a Green Sky, is involved in a project with Arizona State University to design a $60 million atmosphere chamber to reproduce the Earth's atmospheric conditions from the Permian period--as well as any other period they want -- and recreate the die-off with plants grown in the chambers. The aim is to see what kinds of signs are left behind so they can then look for them in nature today and see what they tell us about evolution.

Although hydrogen sulfide has the potential to be a mass murderer, researchers have recently discovered a possible medical use for the deadly gas that could, ironically, also save millions of lives. Tests have only been conducted on mice, but so far they show that hydrogen sulfide injected directly into the heart of mice suffering a medically induced heart attack puts their bodies into a state of suspended animation and results in the heart cells sustaining less damage than those of mice who did not receive the injections.

Ward spoke with Wired.com about the possible risks and benefits of hydrogen sulfide and how gas masks may be in our future.

Wired: Explain how the Permian mass extinction occurred.

Peter Ward: Step one is, there's an enormous release of flood basalts coming out of cracks in the earth, and huge amounts of magma from the deep Earth comes out. These things go on for millions of years, and the volume of lava is extraordinary. It may have covered an area the size of the continental U.S.

Now, the lava doesn't kill much, except the poor, stupid animals that were crazy enough to be around there. But as the lava comes out, carbon dioxide bubbles out with it and a lot of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere to the point that we estimate the carbon dioxide levels hit 3,000 parts per million. [Current carbon dioxide levels are about 380 parts per million.]

This causes the oceans and the planet to warm, and once you do that you stop ocean currents. Once you stop currents, you lose oxygen in the ocean, because it's circulation that keeps the ocean oxygenated. This allows a type of bacteria to take over that creates hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Animal life cannot live in water that has a lot of hydrogen sulfide in it. When you have concentrations of greater than 80 ppm of hydrogen sulfide, or you get up to 200 ppm, which is easily done, you'll kill every animal [in the ocean]. Eventually so much hydrogen sulfide leaks into the atmosphere that it kills animals and plants.

Wired: How many land species were there at the time and how many were killed?

Ward: On land you had hundreds of species of mammal-like reptiles -- the first stage of mammals. It was over 90 percent extinction, not just of land animals but of ocean animals and plants. Only 50 percent [of species] in the asteroid-dinosaur stage died. So this was way, way worse.

Wired: How long did it take for this to happen?

Ward: It occurred slowly, over thousands of years. We still do not know precisely how long.

Wired: It's believed that hydrogen sulfide was the cause of at least two other mass extinctions, right?

Ward: Actually, I think it's up to 12. Every mass extinction except the dinosaur extinction seems to have been caused by this. It's all about when the Earth decides to spit out these big burps of magma that come to the surface. But a big mass extinction from global warming has not happened in 100 million years.

Wired: We place the blame for our current global warming situation on rising CO2 levels created by man. But the previous episodes of global warming and mass extinctions were entirely the cause of nature. It seems as if we could do everything in our power to reduce man-made global warming and still face global warming and mass extinction from nature if we have flood basalts at the level that occurred during the Permian period.

Ward: Not really -- those past episodes were from very rare flood basalts. There may not be another of these, as the Earth is cooling as it ages.

But we've had these mass extinctions [from hydrogen sulfide] when carbon dioxide has hit 1,000 ppm. We have not hit that [level] for 100 million years. But we are currently at 380 ppm -- and climbing rapidly at 2 ppm a year and accelerating -- and this is the highest CO2 I think in the last 40 million years. The only time [these extinctions] ever happened in the past is when these big flood basalts happened. But now we're making it happen far faster than the flood basalts ever did. This is a unique event in the history of the planet.

Wired: What would life look like as the Earth's oxygen is slowly choked off by hydrogen sulfide and how long would it take?

Ward: This really is a long way off. This is something that's going to take thousands of years. The oceans take a long time to change from oxygenated to a place where there is no oxygen on the bottom. But once it starts, you can't stop it.

I think sea-level rise is a more imminent danger. The thing that we have to do is, we have to save the ice caps, because if the ice caps go, (the hydrogen sulfide scenario) is the inevitable next step. One thousand ppm (of CO2) is all it would take to get rid of all the ice caps on the planet. We'll be at 1,000 in 200 years or less. Which means good-bye ice caps on planet Earth, which means 240 feet of sea level, which means good-bye San Francisco, Seattle, New York and on and on.

But if losing the ice caps makes us uncomfortable [because of rising water], the hydrogen sulfide is going to make us extinct. In 500 years, I can see a world where everyone will be wearing gas masks. Those that [have] them will live; those that don't will die. We humans are here for the long haul, and if we do not stop heating our atmosphere, we will suffer a very nasty fate.

Wired: Are there any areas on the planet where we can see the beginnings of something like this already happening with hydrogen sulfide?

Ward: Right now off the coast of Namibia there is hydrogen sulfide coming out. Fisheries went in and killed off all the anchovies and sardines. Then the plankton comes up, and there are no fish to eat them and they go to the bottom and rot. That rotting produces hydrogen sulfide and it rises to the surface and is causing all kinds of havoc. Where I live [Washington state] we have hydrogen sulfide hot spots coming from the old logging camps. All the wood waste that was buried in the last two or three centuries is now rotting to the point that well-diggers have to [carry] a gas mask because if they puncture one of these hydrogen sulfide bubbles it will kill them.

Wired: Recently researchers have posited that there's also a possible medical benefit from controlled use of hydrogen sulfide. You've called it the next and best boon for medical science. What are the practical applications of the gas?

Ward: With H2S, a mammal can be turned functionally into a cold-blooded animal and cooled far lower than could otherwise take place [to slow down the progression of injuries]. This could save a lot of lives [in a medical crisis]. The Buffalo (Bills) football player (Kevin Everett) who had the accident -- the reason they were able to do the neurological stuff they did on him was because they were able to cool him [until they could treat him]. In a situation like that, you're buying time.

The critical part of a heart attack, it has been shown over and over, is that if you can get them to a hospital fast enough they will survive. So let's say you're in Iraq and they've just blown your leg off with an IED. You're bleeding out. You're dead. Put the hydrogen sulfide in -- you bleed out, but you're slowed down. You get to the hospital, and they fill you back up again with blood again.

Each cell (already naturally) produces a minute amount of hydrogen sulfide, and it causes that cell to reduce activity. So when you're in a crisis, it's as if [the cells and body] come to the conclusion, "I'm in a crisis; I can't be expending energy, I better go into reserve [mode]."

So [if you give someone hydrogen sulfide] to replace the oxygen, theoretically, instead of that lack of oxygen killing you, your metabolism shuts down so low, your need for oxygen reduces immensely. We're talking about a situation where your heart only needs to beat once a minute or so. What we're really talking about is not suspended animation; we're talking about [medically-induced] death. And then we bring you back. We're going to artificially kill people so it buys us time, and then bring them back alive.

Wired: How long could you stay in that state?

Ward: Four to six hours in mice, and they come back perfectly the same. The trouble is ... we don't know what's going on in the brain cells. And this is the biggest issue with this. How much brain death will there be? There will be some. So here's the ethical dilemma: If I get in a car wreck, my wife who loves me dearly, would she rather have me back as a vegetable, a half-Peter? What if I come back without any memory of her whatsoever? Or what if I can't write? Is it better to have me like that ... or is it better to just let me be dead? Going in, you don't know what you're going to get coming out.

Wired: So why would you say this is the greatest boon to medicine?

Ward: Because for some people, they will come out fine. That woman who had the stroke (Jill Bolte Taylor, who spoke at TED last week), she rebuilt everything. Brains rebuild. Yes, you have all this damage, but there's no reason you can't rebuild right around it to get exactly where you were [before the accident]. But we'll be able to save a hell of a lot of lives.

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Boys And Girls Brains Are Different: Gender Differences In Language Appear Biological

New research shows that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks. (Credit: iStockphoto/Rich Legg)

For the first time -- and in unambiguous findings -- researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks.

"Our findings -- which suggest that language processing is more sensory in boys and more abstract in girls -- could have major implications for teaching children and even provide support for advocates of single sex classrooms," said Douglas D. Burman, research associate in Northwestern's Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers measured brain activity in 31 boys and in 31 girls aged 9 to 15 as they performed spelling and writing language tasks.

The tasks were delivered in two sensory modalities -- visual and auditory. When visually presented, the children read certain words without hearing them. Presented in an auditory mode, they heard words aloud but did not see them.

Using a complex statistical model, the researchers accounted for differences associated with age, gender, type of linguistic judgment, performance accuracy and the method -- written or spoken -- in which words were presented.

The researchers found that girls still showed significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys. The information in the tasks got through to girls' language areas of the brain -- areas associated with abstract thinking through language. And their performance accuracy correlated with the degree of activation in some of these language areas.

To their astonishment, however, this was not at all the case for boys. In boys, accurate performance depended -- when reading words -- on how hard visual areas of the brain worked. In hearing words, boys' performance depended on how hard auditory areas of the brain worked.

If that pattern extends to language processing that occurs in the classroom, it could inform teaching and testing methods.

Given boys' sensory approach, boys might be more effectively evaluated on knowledge gained from lectures via oral tests and on knowledge gained by reading via written tests. For girls, whose language processing appears more abstract in approach, these different testing methods would appear unnecessary.

"One possibility is that boys have some kind of bottleneck in their sensory processes that can hold up visual or auditory information and keep it from being fed into the language areas of the brain," Burman said. This could result simply from girls developing faster than boys, in which case the differences between the sexes might disappear by adulthood.

Or, an alternative explanation is that boys create visual and auditory associations such that meanings associated with a word are brought to mind simply from seeing or hearing the word.

While the second explanation puts males at a disadvantage in more abstract language function, those kinds of sensory associations may have provided an evolutionary advantage for primitive men whose survival required them to quickly recognize danger-associated sights and sounds.

If the pattern of females relying on an abstract language network and of males relying on sensory areas of the brain extends into adulthood -- a still unresolved question -- it could explain why women often provide more context and abstract representation than men.

Ask a woman for directions and you may hear something like: "Turn left on Main Street, go one block past the drug store, and then turn right, where there's a flower shop on one corner and a cafe across the street."

Such information-laden directions may be helpful for women because all information is relevant to the abstract concept of where to turn; however, men may require only one cue and be distracted by additional information.

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MIT Builds Efficient Nanowire Storage to Replace Car Batteries

Could the ultracapacitor replace lithium ion in hybrids and plug-in vehicles? Our senior automotive editor already thinks the science adds up, but it’s in a tiny box at a messy lab that the future of automotive efficiency is taking a surprising turn toward extending range and battery life.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Sometimes the cliché fits: It looks like a bomb went off—not necessarily in this lab, but somewhere, with the aftermath seemingly carted here. The gutted remains of a sedan, its engine exposed, the seats ripped out of the frame, sits encased in cables. At other workstations the focus is a single part—an isolated camshaft, an alternator hooked up to test apparatus. It would be easy to misinterpret this place and think that researchers at MIT’s Lab for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) are either piecing back together some shattered car or entering the Automotive X Prize. In fact, each of these experiments has different methodologies, but many have the same goal: automotive efficiency, by any means necessary.

The wired car, for example, is an effort to test more detailed diagnostic systems, with sensors that detect changes in the system’s electrical signature—and maybe even warn you before the starter motor fails. And the modifications made to the alternator would let it run at 30 percent greater efficiency, with a smoother electrical system translating to about 1 mpg in improved mileage. Researchers estimate that the increased cost for the manufacturer would be about $5.

One of the most promising experiments here is tucked away in what appears to be the messiest part of the entire lab, a small room littered with hand tools and testing gear. Joel Schindall, the associate director of LEES, pulls a tray out of a cabinet and flips it open. Inside are four black squares, like overturned tiles from a Magnetic Poetry set. If my job was to clean out this lab, I would probably take one look at these unassuming little things and fling the entire tray into the nearest trash can. Because unless they’re under an electron microscope, vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays don’t look like much.

The point of these particular arrays is to capture ions and eventually give traditional rechargeable batteries a run for their money. The focus of Schindall’s research is ultracapacitors, which store drastically less energy than a battery but have essentially none of the drawbacks. In any capacitor, there’s no battery memory caused by partial discharging and no reduction in capacity with each recharge. “They never wear out, they have no electrolyte, they don’t have any chemistry taking place in them,” Schindall says. “It’s just an electric field that stores the energy. So you can recharge a capacitor a gazillion times. It’s very efficient—just the internal resistance of the wires.” The ions cling electrostatically to materials in a capacitor, which also allows for much quicker charge times. And by avoiding the chemical reaction that drives traditional batteries, there’s no real danger of a capacitor suddenly overloading—or exploding like a laptop’s lithium-ion battery pack. (For more on how this technology works, read senior automotive editor Mike Allen’s new take on why ultracapacitors could replace batteries in hybrid cars.)

The problem with capacitors—and the reason they’ve taken such a back seat to batteries since they were first stumbled upon in the ’60s—is capacity. Even ultracapacitors can manage only a fraction of the power of a lead-acid or lithium-ion battery. So the recipe for a better ultracapacitor is more surface area. Researchers have already expanded capacity with the addition of activated carbon coatings, which are porous enough to provide an effective surface area that’s 10,000 times greater than the materials previously used to gather ions. Around four years ago, Schindall was reading about various experiments that utilized nanowire arrays, when he experienced—though no scientist, Schindall included, would ever actually put it this way—the proverbial “eureka” moment.

By replacing the porous activated carbon used in ultracapacitors with tightly bunched nanotubes, Schindall believed that the ion-collecting surface area could be increased by as much as five. Since current ultracapacitors can store around 5 percent of the energy in an equivalent-size battery, the addition of nanowires could bring this up to 25 percent. “And you can also operate [the ultracapacitor] at a higher voltage with the nanotubes, and that’s about another factor of two in energy,” he says. “We are hopeful—we haven’t proven it—that we can get up somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of a battery’s energy. At that point, it becomes a compelling device for many applications.”

Those applications could include not only electric vehicles, where the benefits of unlimited charge cycles and less overload-prone storage are clear, but in hybrid cars as well. The math gets a little complicated here, but Schindall says that even standard ultracapacitors, with their relatively paltry 5 percent storage, are potential competitors for the pack in his Toyota Prius. “In order to prolong the life of the battery in my car, they only use it over the middle 10 to 15 percent of its range,” he says. “So actually I’m only using perhaps 15 percent of the capacity. With an ultracapacitor you can use it all, or almost all. So the difference between 5 percent and 15 percent is not nearly as severe.”

According to Schindall, ultracapacitors would also outlive the car, possibly solving the complicated warranty issues surrounding hybrids and, whenever they’re finally released commercially, plug-in hybrids. If nanotube ultracapacitors can reach that 25 or 50 percent mark, then they could not only compete with the batteries currently used by Toyota, but thanks to their ability to discharge without risk, they could provide even longer ranges. “I try to contain myself, because it hasn’t been proven yet, but it could be a real paradigm change,” Schindall says.

The process of creating the nanowire arrays is relatively straightforward—a tiny piece of conductive substrate is coated with a catalyst, and then placed in a vacuum chamber. The chamber is then filled with carbon gas, and the square is heated until a black, sootlike coating appears. After about 10 minutes, the tile is complete, and the nanowires are fully grown. The challenge has been in reaching the theoretical capacity that Schindall’s team originally calculated. So far, the nanotubes can match the energy storage of standard ultracapacitors, but the goal remains to boost that capacity by a factor of five or even 10. “A couple of years ago, we thought we were six months to a year away. And that time has come and gone,” he says.

The next step for this project is to create test cells about the size of watch batteries to be distributed to existing ultracapacitor manufacturers. The team will also release its latest results, but by allowing companies to independently verify that data, Schindall believes it could demonstrate the commercial viability of the nanotube approach. He hopes to have those test cells ready within a year, or possibly as soon as a few months. Still, it could take years for ultracapacitors of any kind to reach the kind of production volume and capacity necessary to rival batteries in the marketplace. So for now, these nano-dusted squares are going back in their tray and back on the shelf to fight for energy storage supremacy another day.

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The Science vs. Scientology Timeline

Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's most notorious space opera is the religion of Scientology, which is packed with aliens and space battles and waves of invaders to our solar system. Hubbard even referred to the cosmological timeline behind Scientology as "the space opera," and for good reason. It reads like a pretty damn trippy science fiction novel. For your edification, we've created a handy timeline (below) that compares the scientific history of the universe with the Scientology history of the universe. Who knew all that alien stuff was going on during the middle ages? And before the Big Bang? A few notes for the uninitiated. According to Scientology, "Thetans" are aliens whose spirits live within humans today. So Thetans are kind of like proto-humans. Also, within the Scientology time frame, the biggest incidents usually involve the Thetans being traumatized with "implants" or "brainwashing" from other aliens. So you'll see a lot of references to various brainwashing incidents here, including the invention of the Christianity Implant, which Hubbard believed was a very corrosive form of mind-control.
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California cows start passing gas to the grid

By Nichola Groom

RIVERDALE, California (Reuters) - Imagine a vat of liquid cow manure covering the area of five football fields and 33 feet deep. Meet California's most alternative new energy.

On a dairy farm in the Golden State's agricultural heartland, utility PG&E Corp began on Tuesday producing natural gas derived from manure, in what it hopes will be a new way to power homes with renewable, if not entirely clean, energy.

The Vintage Dairy Biogas Project, the brainchild of life- long dairyman David Albers, aims to provide the natural gas needed to power 1,200 homes a day, Albers said at the facility's inauguration ceremony.

"When most people see a pile of manure, they see a pile of manure. We saw it as an opportunity for farmers, for utilities, and for California," Albers said.

In addition to being a partner in the 5,000-head Vintage Dairy, Albers is also president of BioEnergy Solutions, the company that funded and built the facility which cost millions of dollars. PG&E is simply a customer and the companies declined to give details of project finances.

As cow manure decomposes, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Scientists say controlling methane emissions from animals such as cows would be a major step in addressing climate change.

Enter the Vintage Dairy project. As luck would have it, methane can be captured and treated to produce renewable gas, and California regulators have directed PG&E and other utilities to make renewable energy at least 20 percent of their electricity supplies by 2010.

PG&E expects to reach 14 percent this year, thanks in small part at least to its partnership with BioEnergy Solutions.

To tap the renewable gas from cow manure, the Vintage Dairy farm first flushes manure into a large, octagonal pit, where it becomes about 99 percent water. It is then pumped into a covered lagoon, first passing through a screen that filters out large solids that eventually become the cows' bedding.

The covered lagoon, or "digester," is the size of nearly five football fields and about 33 feet deep. It is lined with plastic to protect the ground water and the cover, made of high density polyethylene, is held down at the edges by concrete. The digester's cover was sunken into the lagoon on Tuesday, but officials said it would be taut and raised in a few days as the gas collects underneath it.

Weights on top of the digester channel the gas to the small facility where it is "scrubbed" of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. The end product is "close to 99 percent pure methane" according to BioEnergy Chief Operating Officer Thomas Hintz.

Once it is treated, the gas is injected into PG&E's pipeline, where it will be shipped to a power plant in Northern California.

According to Albers, PG&E and California state officials, biogas is a major opportunity for dairy farmers to make extra revenue while helping the environment.

"There are a lot of lagoons like this in California that don't have lining in them," said James Boyd, commissioner and vice chair of the California Energy Commission. "There is a business case to be made for this ... climate change has really provided the incentive to do this."

Both BioEnergy Solutions and PG&E are actively courting dairy farmers, whose cow manure is now simply being used as fertilizer, allowing the methane to be released into the air as a greenhouse gas.

"With nearly 2 million dairy cows in California, the potential is great," said Roy Kuga, vice president of energy supply for San Fransisco-based PG&E. The company has a partnership with another company, Microgy, which is currently setting up biogas projects at three California dairies.

In practice, however, not every dairy could participate in such a project because some are not located close enough to the necessary gas transmission lines, PG&E officials said.

Still, for now there are plenty of dairies to get on board. A second dairy in Fresno county has already agreed to join the Vintage Dairy project and Albers estimated gas from the two dairies combined could power 2,500 homes a day. The Vintage Dairy facility could accommodate gas from up to two or three more dairies, depending on the size, officials said.

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Earth and Moon, from Mars

The instant I saw the avalanche image from the HiRISE camera on-board MRO orbiting Mars, I knew I would have a contender for my Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2008.

But then they released this one at the same time:

Yeah, that’s us. That’s home. We were 192 million kilometers (115 million miles) from Mars when HiRISE turned around and took this picture. Right away I could tell that was South America’s west coastline… which is incredible. I also was just starting to wonder about the Moon in the image when I read that it had been brightened artificially to make it easier to see; in general the Earth is 3-4 times more reflective than the Moon, so it’s a lot brighter.

The Mars-Earth-Sun angle was just about 90 degrees when this was taken, which is why the Earth and Moon are half-full. Note that in reality, the Moon is about 30 Earth-diameters away from the Earth, so we’re seeing some perspective here. The Moon was a day before third quarter when this was taken, so it was actually a bit closer to Mars than the Earth was when HiRISE snapped this picture.

Beautiful.

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BREAKING: Martian avalanche caught in the act!

This is TOTALLY HAWESOME: an avalanche on Mars was caught in the act by the HiRISE camera.

This picture shows the billowing dust cloud from an avalanche of ice and dust along scarps — sheer cliffs — near the north pole of Mars. To give you a sense of scale, the cloud is about 180 meters across, and about the same distance from the base of the cliff.

Holy cow.

You can see the cliff in the middle of the picture. It’s 700 meters high (2300 feet!) and slopes at about 60 degrees; that’s pretty close to vertical. To the left you can see white carbon-dioxide frost (which is evaporating as spring ensues in the Martian northern hemisphere) at the top of the cliff.

If my (very) rough calculations are accurate, it would take a rock about 20 seconds to fall from the top of the cliff, and would hit the bottom at about 70 meters/second, or about 150 miles per hour. Look out below!

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Weather Channel Founder Blasts Network; Claims It Is 'Telling Us What to Think'

TWC founder and global warming skeptic advocates suing Al Gore to expose 'the fraud of global warming.'

The Weather Channel has lost its way, according to John Coleman, who founded the channel in 1982.

Coleman told an audience at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change on March 3 in New York that he is highly critical of global warming alarmism.

“The Weather Channel had great promise, and that’s all gone now because they’ve made every mistake in the book on what they’ve done and how they’ve done it and it’s very sad,” Coleman said. “It’s now for sale and there’s a new owner of The Weather Channel will be announced – several billion dollars having changed hands in the near future. Let’s hope the new owners can recapture the vision and stop reporting the traffic, telling us what to think and start giving us useful weather information.”

The Weather Channel has been an outlet for global warming alarmism. In December 2006, The Weather Channel’s Heidi Cullen argued on her blog that weathercasters who had doubts about human influence on global warming should be punished with decertification by the American Meteorological Society.

Coleman also told the audience his strategy for exposing what he called “the fraud of global warming.” He advocated suing those who sell carbon credits, which would force global warming alarmists to give a more honest account of the policies they propose.

“[I] have a feeling this is the opening,” Coleman said. “If the lawyers will take the case – sue the people who sell carbon credits. That includes Al Gore. That lawsuit would get so much publicity, so much media attention. And as the experts went to the witness stand and testified, I feel like that could become the vehicle to finally put some light on the fraud of global warming.”

Earlier at the conference Lord Christopher Monckton, a policy adviser to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told an audience that the science will eventually prevail and the “scare” of global warming will go away. He also said the courts were a good avenue to show the science.


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Cyber-Terrorists Spam the Eco-Terrorists

Was the Earth Liberation Front Web Site Hacked by Viagra?


Have cyber-terrorists attacked the eco-terrorists?

It appears so, based on a look at the Earth Liberation Front Web site, which should be getting a lot of traffic today after the group was implicated in the arson of a luxury Street of Dreams housing development near Seattle.

The apparently authentic Earth Liberation Front Web sites appear to be a mix of content about eco-terrorism and Viagra.

The meta title of the homepage is even "Viagra Sample Pack - Free Viagra Sample," which could reflect some misguided attempt to capture Web traffic from poor old men most likely uninterested in radical environmental terrorism. The "links" navigation at the top of the page links directly to a full-page Viagra ad, and there are Viagra ads all over the site.

But it doesn't appear to be purely a front site put out by some illicit Viagra purveyor. It's a fairly deep site with believable content about the organization, which is a loosely affiliated group of like-minded individuals hell-bent on bringing down environmentally destructive capitalistic business. Because the group is so shadowy, it's not hard to imagine oversight of the Web page being lax enough to allow for some effective hacking. It's not hard to imagine a sneaky Viagra salesman buying the domain name and content after the site was abandoned.

The domain appears to be for sale, but that doesn't explain who is maintaining the site now.

The ELF press office is, according to the Wikipedia page on the organization, defunct. The Daily Green has contacted the Web site seeking information. But that might well just result in a flood of erectile dysfunction spam.

Welcome to the 21st century.

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