Thursday, July 10, 2008

Moon's interior 'did hold water'

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Green glasses (Nasa)
The glasses were created during volcanic events on the Moon

US scientists have found evidence that water was held in the Moon's interior, challenging some elements of the theory of how Earth's satellite formed.

The Moon is thought to have been created in a violent collision between Earth and another planet-sized object.

Scientists thought the heat from this impact had vaporised all the water.

But a new study in Nature magazine shows water was delivered to the lunar surface from the interior in volcanic eruptions three billion years ago.

This suggests that water has been a part of the Moon since its early existence.

The discovery came from lunar volcanic glasses, pebble-like beads collected and returned to Earth by the US Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This confirms that water comes from deep within the mantle of the Moon
Alberto Saal, Brown University

In the decades since, scientists have sought to determine the nature of a class of chemical elements known as volatiles in the multicoloured glasses.

In particular, they searched the glasses for signs of water - but the evidence has remained elusive. This was consistent with a general consensus that the Moon was dry.

The team, from Brown University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and Case Western Reserve University, used secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) technology to detect extremely minute quantities of water in glasses and minerals.

"We developed a way to detect as little as five parts per million of water," said Erik Hauri, from the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC.

"We were really surprised to find a whole lot more in these tiny glass beads, up to 46 parts per million."

Lost to space

The team then confirmed through a series of tests that hydrogen had been present all along, and the samples had not been infused by hydrogen-rich solar winds or tainted by other volatiles.

"This confirms that water comes from deep within the mantle of the Moon," said lead author Alberto Saal, assistant professor of geological sciences at Brown University.

"It has nothing to do with secondary processes, such as contamination or solar wind."

Orange soil on the Moon (Nasa)
Orange lunar soil found by astronaut Harrison Schmitt in 1972

The researchers believe the water was contained in magma which erupted via "fire fountains" on to the lunar surface more than three billion years ago.

About 95% of this water vapour was lost during the volcanic activity.

"Since the Moon was thought to be perfectly dehydrated, this is a giant leap from previous estimates," said co-author Erik Hauri, from the Carnegie Institution.

"It suggests the intriguing possibility that the Moon's interior might have had as much water as the Earth's upper mantle. But even more intriguing: If the Moon's volcanoes released 95% of their water, where did all that water go?"

Since the Moon's gravity is too feeble to retain an atmosphere, the researchers speculate that some of the water vapour from the eruptions was probably forced into space.

But some may also have drifted towards the cold poles of the Moon where ice may persist in permanently shadowed craters.

Ancient rocks

The research also might yield additional insight into how long water had been on Earth.

"It suggests that water was present within the Earth before the giant collision that formed the Moon," Dr Saal explained.

"That points to two possibilities: Water either was not completely vaporised in that collision or it was added a short time - less than 100 million years - afterward by volatiles introduced from the outside, such as with meteorites."

The glasses analysed in the study colour the lunar soil green or orange. While most glasses collected on the Moon were produced by melting of rocks during meteorite impacts, these lack the typical characteristics of so-called impact glasses.

In addition, their ages are similar to those of surrounding basaltic rocks, linking them to the Moon's geological evolution.

Verifying that water is at the Moon's poles is one goal of Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, due to launch later this year.

It is the primary objective of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCross) scheduled for launch in 2009.

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Ancient 'Dead Sea' Stone Tablet Predates & Might Rewrite the Bible

A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew found near the Dead Sea in Jordan that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is raising eyebrows in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it is believed to speak of a messiah called Simon who will rise from the dead after three days, suggesting that the story of Christ's death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

The tablet, which is similar in style to the Dead Sea Scrolls, is written, not engraved, across two neat columns, similar to columns in a Torah. But the stone is broken, and some of the text is faded, meaning that much of what it says is open to debate.

A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls which set the word talking when they were discovered 60 years ago. The new text seems to imply the life and death of Jesus was predicted before his birth

But a leading scholar says it confirms his theory that some Jewish sects before Christ believed a messiah would save them - but not before he was killed and brought back to life after three days. Israel Knohl, Professor of Biblical Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says one line of the text tells the 'prince of princes' slain by the evil government, 'in three days you shall live'. He suggests the story refers to the death of a Jewish prince called Simon who led a revolt against King Herod.

Daniel Boyarin, of the University of California at Berkeley, said that there was growing evidence suggesting that Jesus could be best understood through a close reading of the Jewish history of his day.
'Some Christians will find it shocking - a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology, while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism,' he said.

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Whales & Dolphins Inspire a Novel Design for Wind Turbines

Dolphins and whales have evolved over millions of years to maximize efficiency of movement through water. The human species has been trying to perfect streamlined designs for barely a century. Biologists and engineers, applying biomimicry, studied the flippers, fins and tails of whales and dolphins, and have discovered some features of their structure that contradict long-held engineering theories.

The shape of whale flippers with one bumpy edge has inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades. This design has been shown to be more efficient and also quieter, but defies traditional engineering theories.

Dr Frank Fish of West Chester University says that the shape of whale flippers has inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades.

"Engineers have previously tried to ensure steady flow patterns on rigid and simple lifting surfaces, such as wings. The lesson from biomimicry is that unsteady flow and complex shapes can increase lift, reduce drag and delay 'stall', a dramatic and abrupt loss of lift, beyond what existing engineered systems can accomplish," Fish said. "There are even possibilities that this technology could be applied to aeronautical designs such as helicopter blades in the future."

0707wind Large vortices are formed behind the troughs along the leading edge whereas flow behind the tubercles forms straight streamlines. The effect of these flow patterns induced by the tubercles is to delay stall. (Image credit: E.Paterson)

The research, which was funded by the US National Science Foundation and the US Office of Naval Research, looked specifically at the vortices formed in the wake of the marine mammals.

"In the case of the humpback whale, vortices formed from tubercles (bumps) on the front edge of flippers help to generate more lift without the occurrence of stall, as well as enhancing maneuverability and agility," he explained. "In the case of the tails of dolphins, vortices are formed at the end of the up and down strokes. These vortices are involved in the production of a jet in the wake of the dolphin that produces high thrust. By regulating the production of the vortices, the dolphin can maximize its efficiency while swimming."

Posted by Casey Kazan.

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Helium Balloon in Paris Displays Air Pollution Levels

Arophiles balloon turns different colors depending on the air pollution levels as registered by the air quality organization Airparif.
Aérophile´s balloon turns different colors depending on the air pollution levels, as registered by the air quality organization Airparif.

People in Paris won't have to look far to see the city's air pollution levels. A giant tethered helium balloon will display real-time reports of atmospheric pollution using an innovative lighting system, which can be seen from more than 20 km (12.4 miles) away.

A company called Aérophile announced its recent launch of the gas balloon, known as the AERO30NG Aérophile 5500 model, which is located in the Parc Andre Citroën in Paris. Aérophile manufactures tethered gas balloons as tourist and cultural attractions for places including Disney Village in Paris and the Great Park Balloon in Irvine, California.

The newest balloon, which is filled with 6,000 cubic meters of helium, will serve as both an eco-diagnostic public awareness tool as well as a tourist attraction.

Around the city, air pollution data will be collected by several sensors set up by Airparif, an organization that measures air quality in France. Based on this data, the Aérophile balloon will display two measurements: ambient air quality and air pollution produced by auto emissions, which is measured at major traffic junctions.

The balloon's color signifies the ambient air quality using three projectors that are located in the middle of the balloon. For example, red signifies highly polluted air, orange for polluted, yellow for moderate, light green for clean, and green for very clean.

To display traffic pollution, a high-powered rotating laser at the base sweeps across the lower half of the balloon. Both pollution displays will be visible day and night. Also, Airparif will be recording the data on its Web site, along with that of 30 other European cities.

As a tourist attraction, the balloon will provide non-polluting rides for up to 30 passengers at a time. The balloon is tethered to the ground with a movable cable controlled by a hydroelectric winch - an environmentally friendly design based on the Archimedes principle.

As Aérophile describes on its Web site, "Flight aboard a tethered gas balloon AERO30NG is a unique experience full of sensations for the passengers. Silent and without vibration, the gondola is open to the air, allowing passengers to experience the sensation of being on a flying balcony 150 m in the sky. A 360° panorama unfolds before them, and in a single gaze they can take in the whole landscape."

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