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Friday, April 10, 2009

Kids Curb Marital Satisfaction

Parents all know that children make it harder to do some of the most enjoyable adult things. Bluntly put, kids can get between you.

Now scientists have attached some numbers to the situation.

An eight-year study of 218 couples found 90 percent experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction once the first child was born.

"Couples who do not have children also show diminished marital quality over time," says Scott Stanley, research professor of psychology at University of Denver. "However, having a baby accelerates the deterioration, especially seen during periods of adjustment right after the birth of a child."

An unrelated study in 2006 of 13,000 people found parents are more depressed than non-parents. Scientists speculate that the problem is partly a modern one, because parents don't get as much help at home as they did in previous generations.

There are key variables to note in the new study.

Couples who lived together before marriage experienced more problems after the birth of a child than those who lived separately before marriage, as did those whose parents fought or divorced.

However, some couples said their relationships were stronger post-birth. They tended to have been married longer or had higher incomes.

Children don't ruin everything, Stanley points out.

"There are different types of happiness in life and that while some luster may be off marital happiness for at least a time during this period of life, there is a whole dimension of family happiness and contentment based on the family that couples are building," he said. "This type of happiness can be powerful and positive but it has not been the focus of research."

The new research, funded by a grant to the University of Denver from the National Institutes of Health, is detailed in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Cambridge University Unveiled Solar Car

Cambridge University Eco Racing’s (CUER) new solar racing car demonstrates cutting-edge environmentally-friendly technology, applicable to the next generation of electric vehicles.
Cambridge University Unveiled Solar Car

The vehicle, currently codenamed ‘Bethany‘, will compete in the World Solar Challenge in Australia in October 2009. This vehicle is capable of cruising at 60mph using the same power as a hairdryer. The car will weigh just 160kg and sports 6m2 of the world’s highest efficiency silicon solar cells.

In order to achieve the car’s extraordinary performance, CUER’s engineering team has systematically reduced energy usage for each part of the car. Aerodynamics, rolling resistance, weight and electrical efficiency have all been optimised to create a vehicle that uses up to 50 times less power than a normal petrol car and has potentially infinite range.

Extensive computer modelling and simulation have been necessary to achieve this, using Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks and Simulia packages for mechanical design, ANSYS’s Fluent for aerodynamic simulation, as well as National Instrument’s LabVIEW and The MathWorks’ MatLab and Simulink for systems modelling. Under its solar skin, the racing car is simply an ultra-efficient electric vehicle.

The technologies used are therefore applicable to the commercial electric cars that are beginning to appear on our roads. Technologies used include a 98% efficient electric hub motor, control systems providing battery management (supplied by REAPsystems) and regenerative braking, lightweight mechanical design, and carbon fibre composite bodywork.

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Aerosols May Drive a Significant Portion of Arctic Warming

artist concept of aerosols reflecting light Aerosols can influence climate directly by either reflecting or absorbing the sun's radiation as it moves through the atmosphere. The tiny airborne particles enter the atmosphere from sources such as industrial pollution, volcanoes and residential cooking stoves. Credit: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio
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Though greenhouse gases are invariably at the center of discussions about global climate change, new NASA research suggests that much of the atmospheric warming observed in the Arctic since 1976 may be due to changes in tiny airborne particles called aerosols.

Emitted by natural and human sources, aerosols can directly influence climate by reflecting or absorbing the sun's radiation. The small particles also affect climate indirectly by seeding clouds and changing cloud properties, such as reflectivity.

A new study, led by climate scientist Drew Shindell of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, used a coupled ocean-atmosphere model to investigate how sensitive different regional climates are to changes in levels of carbon dioxide, ozone, and aerosols.

The researchers found that the mid and high latitudes are especially responsive to changes in the level of aerosols. Indeed, the model suggests aerosols likely account for 45 percent or more of the warming that has occurred in the Arctic during the last three decades. The results were published in the April issue of Nature Geoscience.

Though there are several varieties of aerosols, previous research has shown that two types -- sulfates and black carbon -- play an especially critical role in regulating climate change. Both are products of human activity.

Sulfates, which come primarily from the burning of coal and oil, scatter incoming solar radiation and have a net cooling effect on climate. Over the past three decades, the United States and European countries have passed a series of laws that have reduced sulfate emissions by 50 percent. While improving air quality and aiding public health, the result has been less atmospheric cooling from sulfates.

electron microscope images of black carbon attached to sulfate particles Researchers used an electron microscope to capture these images of black carbon attached to sulfate particles. The spherical structures in image A are sulfates; the arrows point to smaller chains of black carbon. Black carbon is shown in detail in image B. Image C shows fly ash, a product of coal-combustion, that's often found in association with black carbon. While black carbon absorbs radiation and contributes to warming, sulfates reflect it and tend to cool Earth. Credit: Peter Buseck, Arizona State University
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At the same time, black carbon emissions have steadily risen, largely because of increasing emissions from Asia. Black carbon -- small, soot-like particles produced by industrial processes and the combustion of diesel and biofuels -- absorb incoming solar radiation and have a strong warming influence on the atmosphere.

In the modeling experiment, Shindell and colleagues compiled detailed, quantitative information about the relative roles of various components of the climate system, such as solar variations, volcanic events, and changes in greenhouse gas levels. They then ran through various scenarios of how temperatures would change as the levels of ozone and aerosols -- including sulfates and black carbon -- varied in different regions of the world. Finally, they teased out the amount of warming that could be attributed to different climate variables. Aerosols loomed large.

The regions of Earth that showed the strongest responses to aerosols in the model are the same regions that have witnessed the greatest real-world temperature increases since 1976. The Arctic region has seen its surface air temperatures increase by 1.5 C (2.7 F) since the mid-1970s. In the Antarctic, where aerosols play less of a role, the surface air temperature has increased about 0.35 C (0.6 F).

That makes sense, Shindell explained, because of the Arctic's proximity to North America and Europe. The two highly industrialized regions have produced most of the world's aerosol emissions over the last century, and some of those aerosols drift northward and collect in the Arctic. Precipitation, which normally flushes aerosols out of the atmosphere, is minimal there, so the particles remain in the air longer and have a stronger impact than in other parts of the world.

Since decreasing amounts of sulfates and increasing amounts of black carbon both encourage warming, temperature increases can be especially rapid. The build-up of aerosols also triggers positive feedback cycles that further accelerate warming as snow and ice cover retreat.

In the Antarctic, in contrast, the impact of sulfates and black carbon is minimized because of the continent’s isolation from major population centers and the emissions they produce.

"There's a tendency to think of aerosols as small players, but they're not," said Shindell. "Right now, in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and in the Arctic, the impact of aerosols is just as strong as that of the greenhouse gases."

graph showing yearly temperature trends Since the 1890s, surface temperatures have risen faster in the Arctic than in other regions of the world. In part, these rapid changes could be due to changes in aerosol levels. Clean air regulations passed in the 1970s, for example, have likely accelerated warming by diminishing the cooling effect of sulfates. Credit: Drew Shindell, Goddard Institute for Space Studies
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The growing recognition that aerosols may play a larger climate role can have implications for policymakers.

"We will have very little leverage over climate in the next couple of decades if we're just looking at carbon dioxide," Shindell said. "If we want to try to stop the Arctic summer sea ice from melting completely over the next few decades, we're much better off looking at aerosols and ozone."

Aerosols tend to be quite-short lived, residing in the atmosphere for just a few days or weeks. Greenhouses gases, by contrast, can persist for hundreds of years. Atmospheric chemists theorize that the climate system may be more responsive to changes in aerosol levels over the next few decades than to changes in greenhouse gas levels, which will have the more powerful effect in coming centuries.

"This is an important model study, raising lots of great questions that will need to be investigated with field research," said Loretta Mickley, an atmospheric chemist from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. who was not directly involved in the research. Understanding how aerosols behave in the atmosphere is still very much a work-in-progress, she noted, and every model needs to be compared rigorously to real life observations. But the science behind Shindell’s results should be taken seriously.

"It appears that aerosols have quite a powerful effect on climate, but there's still a lot more that we need to sort out," said Shindell.

NASA’s upcoming Glory satellite is designed to enhance our current aerosol measurement capabilities to help scientists reduce uncertainties about aerosols by measuring the distribution and microphysical properties of the particles.

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Brazilian faces retrial over murder of environmental activist nun in Amazon

David Batty

Dorothy Stang

Dorothy Stang was shot to death at point-blank range. Photograph: Reuters

A Brazilian court has ordered the arrest and retrial of an Amazon rancher acquitted of orchestrating the murder of American nun and rainforest activist, Dorothy Stang.

Para state's highest court threw out last year's verdict, which found Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura not guilty of the 2005 shooting of Stang, 73, who campaigned for 30 years to save the Amazon rainforest from the interests of wealthy landlords.

"We're elated and we are convinced we will get a guilty verdict in the new trial," said prosecutor Edson Souza.

Souza said Moura was charged with ordering Stang's murder but he had yet to be arrested.

Stang was shot six times at close range with a revolver in the small jungle city of Anapu. The nun, from Dayton, Ohio, spent three decades on the Amazon's wild frontier, working to preserve the rainforest and defend the rights of poor settlers whose lands were seized by powerful ranchers.

Her death prompted Amazon activists – more than 1,000 of whom have been murdered in the last 20 years – to demand Brazil's government crack down on the illegal seizure and clearance of the rainforest to graze cattle, raise soy crops and harvest timber.

"I am excited that perhaps Dorothy will find justice," David Stang, the nun's brother, wrote in an email to the Associated Press.

He has travelled from his home in Palmer Lake, Colorado, to Brazil several times to witness the trials. "All of us who love Brazil today are so proud of this great country, as would Dorothy be proud today," he wrote.

Prosecutors said Moura and rancher Regivaldo Galvao hired gunmen to kill Stang over a disputed plot of land.

Galvao, who denies the charge, was arrested in 2005 but was freed on bail in 2006.

Moura has already been tried twice in the case as Brazil has no double jeopardy law. He was found guilty by a state court in 2007 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.That ruling was overturned last year after the man who confessed to shooting Stang recanted his earlier testimony, insisting he had acted alone. Gunman Rayfran das Neves Sales was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

The court ruled yesterday that Moura and Sales must be retried because a video that Moura's defence showed the jury was inadmissible.

That video depicting Amair Feijoli da Cunha, who was jailed for 17 years for acting as the middleman between the gunman and the ranchers, was made while he was in prison and without a judge's approval.

The video, made by the defence team, showed Cunha saying that Moura had nothing to do with the case. He had testified earlier that Moura paid the hired gunmen.

Para court officials said no date had been set for the trials of Moura or Sales.

More than 1,100 activists, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers have been killed in land disputes in the last two decades, according to the Catholic Land Pastoral, a Brazilian watchdog group.

Of those killings, fewer than 100 cases have gone to court. About 80 convicted suspects were hired gunmen for powerful ranchers and loggers seeking to expand their lands, according to federal prosecutors and the watchdog.

About 15 of the men who hired them were found guilty but none of them are serving a sentence today.

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A Solar-Powered Solution to Florida Sprawl

By Michael Grunwald

An architect's rendering of Babcock Ranch, which plans to provide for its electricity needs, on site, through solar energy.
An architect's rendering of Babcock Ranch, which plans to provide for its electricity needs on site with solar energy

Coming soon to the Sunshine State: the sunshine city.

An NFL lineman turned visionary developer today is unveiling startlingly ambitious plans for a solar-powered city of tomorrow in southwest Florida's outback, featuring the world's largest photovoltaic solar plant, a truly smart power grid, recharging stations for electric vehicles and a variety of other green innovations. The community of Babcock Ranch is designed to break new frontiers in sustainable development, quite a shift for a state that has never been sustainable and lately hasn't had much development. (Read "Is Florida the Sunset State?")

"Some people think I got hit in the head a few too many times," quips developer Syd Kitson, who spent six years in the trenches for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys before entering the real estate business in the mid-1980s. "But I still believe deeply in Florida. And the time has come for something completely different." (See the top 10 green stories of 2008.)

To anyone familiar with southern Florida's planning-nightmare sprawl of golf courses, strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions named after the plants and animals they replaced, Kitson's vision for his solar-powered, smart-growth, live-where-you-work city of 45,000 people east of Fort Myers is breathtakingly different. That's why the press conference held today to reveal his development plans for the historic Babcock Ranch property will feature representatives from the Audubon Society, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.

The history of Florida is littered with spectacular landscape-changing proposals that never made it past the drawing board. The watery wisp of Everglades National Park known as Flamingo — population zero — was once touted as the next Chicago. Kitson's financial partner, Morgan Stanley, has had a rough time lately, and some locals remain skeptical that he can turn his $2 billion green vision into reality. "We've been hearing a lot of very exciting ideas, but we have no idea how this is actually going to happen," says Conservancy of Southwest Florida CEO Andrew McElwaine.

Then again, Kitson has already cleared two of his most difficult hurdles: getting the land and the right to build on it. In 2006 he engineered a deal with then governor Jeb Bush and the previous owners of the 91,000-acre ranch in which the state spent $350 million to purchase 73,000 of the most environmentally sensitive acres — it was the largest preservation buy in Florida history. Kitson paid about the same amount for the remaining 18,000 acres, and he says half of that will remain green space within the new community.

Kitson has been promising unprecedented sustainability all along, but today's shocker was the announcement of Florida Power & Light's plan to provide electricity for Babcock Ranch with a 75-megawatt photovoltaic plant nearly twice as big as the current record holder in Germany. Solar power has been slow to catch on in the gas-powered Sunshine State, but FPL hopes to start construction on the 400-acre, $300 million plant by year's end. The utility expects it will provide enough power for Babcock Ranch and beyond. At $4 million per megawatt — FPL estimates the cost to its customers at about 31� per month over the life of the project — it should be more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys.

Kitson's slick website also promises "groundbreaking" strategies to promote energy efficiency for all Babcock Ranch buildings. And that's not all: "Ultramodern electric vehicles will glide along avenues beneath the glow of solar-powered street lamps, plugging in to recharge at convenient community-wide recharging stations. Revolutionary smart-grid technologies will monitor and manage energy use, while smart-home technology will allow residents to operate their homes at maximum efficiency." Kitson's goal is to reduce carbon emissions, oil dependence and energy bills, while turning Babcock Ranch into a mecca for clean-energy research and development, attracting high-tech companies that will provide high-wage jobs.

The idea is to create a self-contained community where people can live and shop and work and go to school and have fun without long car trips. Kitson's construction plans start with a walkable and bikeable downtown that will include a magnet school, a wellness facility and sustainable retail, as well as 8,000 homes — including affordable homes for local workers. "In Florida, everyone has to drive everywhere they want to go," Kitson says. "And everyone thinks the solution to congestion is to build more roads. I think the solution is to design communities so you don't need more cars on the roads."

Of course, talk is cheap. It's no secret that growth has been Florida's primary economic engine for decades. Yet Fortune 500 companies haven't flocked to its sprawling bedroom communities with lousy schools and overpriced houses, and the paving of paradise has left the state with overtapped aquifers, overcrowded hospitals, overstretched services, traffic jams, a dying Everglades and a vanishing sense of place.

Kitson promises to avoid the mistakes of the past. "We're impressed with their commitments," says Wayne Daltry, Lee County's director of smart growth. "Now we have to pound them to keep their commitments. No plan survives contact with reality — and in this case, the reality is called the bottom line."

Given the dismal state of the economy in Florida and the dismal environmental track record of developers, it's easy to be skeptical. Kitson already had to lay off some of his southwest Florida staff. But unless the sun stops shining, the current housing collapse won't last forever. Florida is always going to be nicer than Brooklyn or Cleveland in the winter. It's about time someone tried to make growth environmentally and economically sustainable. And it's about time someone tried to use that sunshine for something other than getting a tan.

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Chicago Gets First Solar Powered EV Charging Station

Inventor turns cardboard boxes into eco-friendly oven

By Saeed Ahmed

(CNN) -- When Jon Bohmer sat down with his two little girls for a simple project they could work on together, he didn't realize they'd hit upon a solution to one of the world's biggest problems for just $5: A solar-powered oven.

Inventor Jon Bohmer with the oven he has made out of a cardboard box.

Inventor Jon Bohmer with the oven he has made out of a cardboard box.

The ingeniously simple design uses two cardboard boxes, one inside the other, and an acrylic cover that lets in the sun's rays and traps them.

Black paint on the inner box, and silver foil on the outer one, help concentrate the heat. The trapped rays make the inside hot enough to cook casseroles, bake bread and boil water.

What the box also does is eliminate the need in developing countries for rural residents to cut down trees for firewood. About 3 billion people around the world do so, adding to deforestation and, in turn, global warming.

By allowing users to boil water, the simple device could also potentially save the millions of children who die from drinking unclean water.

Bohmer's invention on Thursday won the FT Climate Change Challenge, which sought to find and publicize the most innovative and practical solution to climate change.

"A lot of scientists are working on ways to send people to Mars. I was looking for something a little more grassroots, a little simpler," Bohmer said Thursday.

Bohmer's contest win notwithstanding, solar cooking with a cardboard oven isn't new. Two American women, Barbara Kerr and Sherry Cole, were the solar box cooker's first serious promoters in the 1970s. They and others joined forces to create the non-profit Solar Cookers International -- originally called Solar Box Cookers International -- in 1987.

Further, the organization's executive director, Patrick Widner, said that the plans for a solar box cooker were found in a book published by the Peace Corps in the 1960s.

"We are pleased that Mr. Bohmer has taken up the cause and interest of the 95 member organizations and 160 individuals of the Solar Cookers Worldwide Network," Widner said. "It would be a pleasure to work with Mr. Bohmer in Kenya where we have been promoting the use of solar cookers for ten years."

Bohmer, a Norwegian-born entrepreneur based in Kenya, said he also had been looking at solutions "way too complex, for way too long."

"This took me about a weekend, and it worked on the first try," Bohmer said. "It's mind-boggling how simple it is."

The contest was organized by the Forum for the Future -- a sustainable development charity -- and the Financial Times newspaper. Among the judges were British business magnate Richard Branson and environmentalist Rajendra Pachauri. The public also voted on the finalists.

Bohmer's invention beat about 300 other entries, including a machine that turns wood and other organic material into charcoal, wheel covers that make trucks more fuel efficient by reducing drag, and a feed supplement for livestock that reduces the methane they emit by 15 percent.

Bohmer named his invention the Kyoto Box, after the international environmental treaty to reduce global warming.

The box can be produced in existing cardboard factories. It has gone into production in a factory in Nairobi, Kenya, that can churn out about 2.5 million boxes a month.

Bohmer has also designed a more durable version, made from recycled plastic, which can be produced just as cheaply.

He envisions such cardboard ovens being distributed throughout rural Africa.

"In the West, we cook with electricity, so it's easy to ignore this problem," he said. "But half the world's population is still living in a stone age. The only way for them to cook is to make a fire.

"I don't want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don't have to."

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Report From Antarctica: Heaps of Trash or Historical Treasures?

By Wired Science

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NEKO BAY, Antarctica — On the 2 percent of Antarctica that isn't covered in ice, the juxtaposition of man-made refuse and Planet Earth-worthy wildlife tableaux is far from rare. But cleaning up that prime real estate is complicated by the nature of the debris, much of which is deemed "historical" and thus unmovable.

Marlow Geobiologist Jeff Marlow traveled to Antarctica during the past two weeks as part of an international expedition exploring conservation and environmental issues, sponsored by BP. In a series of reports for Wired.com, he shares his experience seeing the area first-hand with a number of Antarctic climate, conservation and biology experts. The journey brought a number of issues to the fore, including trash accumulation, ecosystems knocked out of balance by warming temperatures, and simmering political tensions over the region.

Marlow is from Denver and is currently earning a Ph.D. at Imperial College London, working on the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover.

There aren't exactly piles of trash covering Antarctica, but the waste’s location on biologically active shores makes it most disruptive to both wildlife and other human visitors. On a rocky outcrop overlooking Neko Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula, a sheet of red corrugated iron shares space with several hundred gentoo penguins.

Over the last few days, we’ve seen several signs of previous human activity, including a wrecked early–20th-century whaling vessel, some wooden water boats, a rusting sledge and a decrepit shack. Determining which structures hold legitimate historical or cultural value and which should be removed is a contentious task without any clear answers.

The answer for some structures is obvious. Even the strictest conservationist would concede the cultural and historical value of sites like Captain Scott’s hut on the Ross Sea or Mawson's camp in Cape Denison. But significant quantities of disused buildings and machinery dating from the last several decades are a different story.

"An old whaling station is a real mess," said Robert Swan, a stubborn Antarctic conservationist and the first man to walk to both poles. "It’s revolting, but actually it’s not, because it’s a statement saying 'Don’t think of Antarctica as pristine: We were about to come and pillage the place.'"

A few dismal landscapes may have a cautionary function "as a reminder of what could have been," had humanity not declared the Antarctic off-limits, said Graham Charles, a guide and adventurer who has worked in the Antarctic for 15 years. "The rest of them are junk piles, and it’s just abysmal."

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There’s plenty of accumulated trash to ship off the continent. From 1994 to 2002, Swan helped the Russian Bellingshausen station on King George Island offload 1,500 tons of garbage that had accumulated since the Cold War. The effort cost $6 million and took eight years, but native penguins soon reclaimed their beach, and the station is a much more pleasant place to visit and live.

Retroactive efforts like the Bellingshausen cleanup will likely continue to take significant amounts of both money and time, but legal frameworks in the last 20 years have helped address waste problems at more recent bases: According to Antarctic law, any active bases must remove all trash from the continent. How each nation manages this mandate varies widely, and regulation is nearly nonexistent.

"Most bases are diligent enough to take their trash out on a ship," Charles said. "But a lot of them have just turned over the soil and buried it."

The designation of "historical" structures and sites remains uncodified and controversial, but there is still plenty of uncontroversial trash that still must be shipped out of Antarctica. Without regulation or public accountability, however, illegal Antarctic dumping is likely to continue. In the meantime, penguins, seals and human visitors alike are learning to live with wood and iron.

Jeff Marlow for Wired.com

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Spain Leads the World in New Solar Energy Development

New Wild Orangutan Population Discovered

Scientists pinpoint the 'edge of space'

Canadian technology on NASA mission is a prototype for future, longer mission

Where does space begin? Scientists at the University of Calgary have created a new instrument that is able to track the transition between the relatively gentle winds of Earth's atmosphere and the more violent flows of charged particles in space – flows that can reach speeds well over 1000 km/hr. And they have accomplished this in unprecedented detail.

Data received from the U of C-designed instrument sent to space on a NASA launch from Alaska about two years ago was able to help pinpoint the so-called edge of space: the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

With that data, U of C scientists confirmed that space begins 118 km above Earth and the results were published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The instrument – called the Supra-Thermal Ion Imager – was carried by the JOULE-II rocket on Jan. 19, 2007. It travelled to an altitude of about 200 kilometers above sea level and collected data for the five minutes it was moving through the "edge of space."

The Canadian Space Agency invested $422,000 in the development of the Supra-Thermal Ion Imager instrument on JOULE-II.

The ability to gather data in that area is significant because it's very difficult to make measurements in this region, which is too high for balloons and too low for satellites.

"It's only the second time that direct measurements of charged particle flows have been made in this region, and the first time all the ingredients – such as the upper atmospheric winds – have been included," says David Knudsen, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary.

Knudsen and his former PhD student Laureline Sangalli are the lead authors of the paper. Co-authors include: JOULE-II lead scientist Miguel Larsen of Clemson University, Robert Pfaff and Douglas Rowland of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and T. Zhan of Conseco Inc.

"When you drag a heavy object over a surface, the interface becomes hot. In JOULE-II we were able to measure directly two regions being dragged past each other, one being the ionosphere -- being driven by flows in space -- and the other the earth's atmosphere," says Knudsen, who also is the head of the Space Physics Division of the Institute for Space Imaging Sciences (ISIS). The institute is a research partnership between the University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge.

The measurements confirmed what other scientists consider the boundary or edge of space.

"The results have given us a closer look at space, which is a benefit to pure research in space science," Knudsen says. "But it also allows us to calculate energy flows into the Earth's atmosphere that ultimately may be able to help us understand the interaction between space and our environment. That could mean a greater understanding of the link between sunspots and the warming and cooling of the Earth's climate as well as how space weather impacts satellites, communications, navigation, and power systems."

The U of C-designed instrument has been adopted by COM DEV, an Ontario-based global designer and manufacturer of space hardware, and is being used as a prototype for three instruments currently being readied to fly on the European Space Agency's "Swarm" satellite mission, set to launch late next year and to collect data for four years. The JOULE-II instrument is one in a long list of more than a dozen instruments designed by U of C scientists in the past forty years which have flown in space. There are at least five more being readied to go on missions in the next two years.

"Understanding the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space is fundamental to the bigger picture of the effects of space on the Earth's climate and environment," says Russ Taylor, the director of ISIS and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the U of C. "This detection is part of a long history of success by ISIS researchers in designing and building innovative instruments flown on rockets and satellites to image the flow of matter and energy between the Earth and Space."

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NASA's early lunar images, in a new light

By John Johnson Jr.

Rising over the battered surface of the moon, Earth loomed in a shimmering arc covered in a swirling skin of clouds.

The image, taken in 1966 by NASA's robotic probe Lunar Orbiter 1, presented a stunning juxtaposition of planet and moon that no earthling had ever seen before.

It was dubbed the Picture of the Century. "The most beautiful thing I'd ever seen," remembered Keith Cowing, who saw it as an 11-year-old and credited it with eventually luring him to work for NASA.

But in the mad rush of discovery, even the breathtaking can get mislaid.

NASA was so preoccupied with getting an astronaut to the moon ahead of the Soviets that little attention was paid to the mountains of scientific data that flowed back to Earth from its early space missions. The data, stored on miles of fragile tapes, grew into mountains that were packed up and sent to a government warehouse with crates of other stuff.

And so they eventually came to the attention of Nancy Evans, a no-nonsense woman with flaming red hair that fit her sometimes-impatient nature. She had been trained as a biologist, but within the sprawling space agency she had found her niche as an archivist.

Evans was at her desk in the 1970s when a clerk walked into her office, asking what he should do with a truck-sized heap of data tapes that had been released from storage.

"What do you usually do with things like that?" she asked.

"We usually destroy them," he replied.

Workhorse missions

If there is an unsung hero of the moon race, it is the Lunar Orbiter program of 1966 and 1967. There were five unmanned spacecraft, resembling stubby candleholders with 12-foot-diameter solar arrays at their bases.

On board each were two large telescopes that could focus on objects as small as a yard, along with specially built Kodak cameras using 70-millimeter film. An on-board darkroom developed the lunar images and prepared them for transmission back to Earth.

Their mission was to map the entire surface of the moon in preparation for the Apollo landings -- and all five performed magnificently.

Incidental to its mission, Lunar Orbiter 1 took the first pictures of Earth as a full planet. Taken pre-Summer of Love, pre-Watergate, pre-global warming, it was a family photo of a less-stressed home planet.

Altogether, nearly 2,000 frames were photographed by the five missions, each of which ended with a silent crash onto the lunar surface.

But there was a problem. Although the original high-resolution images were saved on 2-inch-wide tape, those pictures weren't seen by the public. The images that scrolled across television screens and appeared on the front pages of newspapers were snapshots of the originals using standard 35-millimeter film. The images were grainy and washed-out, like a poorly tuned television set.

Still, they inspired wonder as humanity for the first time contemplated the surface of another body in space from a front-row seat. In addition to the famous image of Earth, there were pictures of the giant Copernicus crater, the 800-million-year-old impact crater more than two miles deep and 60 miles across.

It was a short-lived moment of glory for the workhorse missions. Two years after the last one, Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. With him was a high-resolution Westinghouse TV camera and three exotic Hasselblad still cameras, among other equipment.

The images the astronauts took easily surpassed the Lunar Orbiter shots. But even they eventually migrated into the realm of the ho-hum as the world was inundated with images of moon buggies, lunar golf and the satellite's monotonously barren surface.

By the time of the final Apollo mission in 1972, the American public and Congress had begun to lose interest.

Evans wasn't particularly interested in the moon either when she went to work the next year for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The daughter of a Colorado physician, she had trained in anatomy and the biological sciences. Her bosses saw something in the determined young woman that made them think she would be perfect for a new job in Washington: straightening out NASA's archives. The mountains of data from the early Mercury, Mariner and Gemini missions had become a jumbled mess.

Evans turned out to be the perfect choice. She was organized and could take care of herself. She knew her mission: to preserve the history of human space exploration.

When the clerk came in to ask about the Lunar Orbiter tapes, she didn't hesitate.

"Do not destroy those tapes," Evans commanded.

She talked her bosses at JPL into storing them in a lab warehouse. "I could not morally get rid of this stuff," said Evans, 71, in an interview at her Sun Valley home.

She had no idea what she was letting herself in for. The full collection of Lunar Orbiter data amounted to 2,500 tapes. Assembled on pallets, they constituted an imposing monolith 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 6 feet high.

The mountain of tapes was just part of Evans' new burden.

There was no point, she realized, in preserving the tapes unless she also had an FR-900 Ampex tape drive to read them. But only a few dozen of the machines had been made for the military. The $330,000 tape drives were electronic behemoths, each 7 feet tall and weighing nearly a ton.

Evans scoured salvage lists for a castoff FR-900. As a member of the federal government's Trash Evaluation Board, she was privy to everything being thrown away from government institutions.

One day in the late 1980s, she got a call from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida: "We heard you're looking for FR-900s. We've got three of them. Where do you want us to send them?"

Having already stretched her bosses' goodwill at JPL by storing the tapes there, she reluctantly agreed to take the drives herself. Evans stored the three tape drives from Eglin and a fourth she got off a salvage list -- none of which worked -- in her own garage.

There they sat, for two decades.

"I was stuck with these drives," Evans said. "I couldn't get rid of them."

Space junkie's help

Evans applied regularly to NASA for funding to repair the drives. She was turned down every time. One NASA center estimated it would cost $6 million to restore the drives and digitize the tapes.

Finally, in 2005, retired and increasingly doubtful that the historic images would ever see the light of day, Evans gave up on NASA and went public.

She submitted a paper to a lunar conference stating her plight. Her plea ended up on a blog frequented by space buffs, where it caught the attention of Dennis Wingo, a kind of space junkie extraordinaire.

Author, designer and dreamer, Wingo is well-known in the private space world, the community of activists trying to show that private enterprise can explore space more effectively and cheaply than the government.

"I have been working in lunar exploration for 20 years," Wingo said. "I knew the value of the tape drives and the tapes."

Wingo went for a second opinion from his friend Keith Cowing, who worked for NASA for several years and now operates the NASA Watch website, which frequently aims slings and arrows at space agency administrators. Cowing agreed that they had stumbled on a treasure trove of space history.

One evening in April 2007, he and Wingo pulled up to Evans' home with two rented trucks and loaded up the dirty, dusty and broken FR-900s.

Three hundred miles later, they pulled up to the gate at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, probably the only NASA institution that would even consider admitting them and their pile of junk.

Ames Director Pete Worden offered space in an abandoned McDonald's that in the heyday of the lunar program had been called "McMoon's."

The tape drives were installed where customers once ate fries. Behind the counter, where employees had flipped burgers, stood the massive wall of tapes.

Wingo, who has an engineering physics degree from the University of Alabama, knows his way around a computer. But repairing the FR-900s was beyond him. It was also beyond almost everyone else they tried.

Finally, they heard about an old Army vet, Ken Zin, who knew machinery and happened to work at Ames repairing video equipment.

Zin was a jack-of-all-trades who'd grown up on a farm in the Central Valley, repairing tractors and dairy equipment. In the Army, he'd graduated to fixing top-secret cryptograph machines. He sat down with Wingo and the rest of the team. "Can you make that thing run?" they asked him.

"Yeah, I can make it work," Zin replied.

A long rebuild

It turned out to be a lot harder than he expected. "I hadn't seen that type of stuff for 40 years," he said.

Wingo, Cowing and Zin worked into the night with student volunteers, cannibalizing the tape drives to get one machine working. "We felt a sense of urgency," said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of NASA's Lunar Science Institute at Ames.

They had managed to get $100,000 from NASA for their project, and decided they would focus their efforts on the Earthrise picture.

The drives kept breaking down. Rebuilding the demodulator that converted the electronic signals into images proved particularly difficult. When they couldn't find parts at warehouses, they dug through rusted rocket shells at Ames' junkyard to perform what Zin called a "wrecking yard rebuild."

They had been at work for three months when Schmidt got a call from Wingo one afternoon. "You'd better get over here."

After 42 years, Cowing gazed again at the image of Earth rising above the lunar landscape.

"When that picture came up, I had tears in my eyes," Cowing said.

Unlike the picture that the public had seen, this version had twice the resolution and four times the dynamic range.

It "was breathtaking," Schmidt said. "It felt like looking into the past."

Newly useful

The project has so far cost $250,000, far less than the $6-million estimate by NASA.

Having succeeded once, the team released its second image this weekend -- the Copernicus crater. The team eventually hopes to retrieve all 2,000 images from the five missions.

The images will be of more than historical interest. In April, NASA is scheduled to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to again map the moon. This time it will be looking for a site to erect a permanent human base.

By comparing the new images with the old ones, scientists will be able to study changes in the lunar surface. That information could be invaluable to colonists.

Schmidt flew Nancy Evans up for a small ceremony at Ames in November, when the first image was released.

To the old-timers at NASA, she was a heroine, the best example of a person who, in Schmidt's words, "goes far beyond her professional duties" in the name of science.

Evans herself was less impressed. "Anybody in the same place could have done this," she said.

john.johnson@latimes.com

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Little House On The Moon? Robot Being Created For First Moon Construction Project


Modells of robot Roony and the cottage. The mechanical design of the cottage has not yet been completed, the aim is a mass of 5kg and transport size about 6 liters, with a final living space of 10 square meters. (Credit: Image courtesy the Swedish Research Council)

Mälardalen University is working with the multi-artist Mikael Genberg to create a robot to be sent to the moon to construct a house. The House on the Moon is a project that aims to put a little read cottage on the moon as a symbol of what one man can achieve. The robot will roll out Genberg’s little cabin from the space rocket, find a stable vacant lot, and erect the planet’s first building.

“We want to teach students who think creatively, work together, use the very latest technology, and dare to set their sights high. The most important thing is not always to reach the goal. If you aim for the stars, at least you’ll reach the treetops or even the moon,” says Lars Asplund.

Working together, the students are to go all the way from idea to construction and programming to finally having a real robot. “We’re good at that here at Mälardalen University,” asserts Professor Lars Asplund, who is the country’s leading robot inventor and a good role model in the program.

The goal is for the robot – which has the working name of Roony – to be able to place the cabin on the moon in 2012.

Mikael Genberg is an artist from Västerås who is best known for his alternative living environments. Today Hotel Woodpecker is located 13 meters up in the highest tree in Vasa Park in Västerås. Out in Lake Mälaren, one kilometer out from the harbor, there is a building with an underwater room named Hotel Otter Inn. The little house on the moon will be barn red with white trim – after all, the first ones on the moon this time will be Swedes.

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