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Giant “combs” on Mars


A Piece of Mars: This 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) scene shows a herd of 100-300 m fine-toothed combs grazing on the surface of Mars. Wait, what? No, it’s not really combs. This is actually a landscape covered by two sets of windblown bedforms. The larger ones (the “comb” shafts) are very old, now inactive windblown features. The smaller ones (the “comb” teeth) are ~2 m apart, and they extend downwind (eastward) from the older bedforms, which effectively serve as filters that block winds from the west (left to right), allowing only the northerly or southerly components of most winds to shape the ripples on their lee sides. Beyond the influence of the larger bedforms, the small ripples merge with those on the surrounding sand sheet, which show the influence of several different winds (HiRISE ESP_045166_1690, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Old ripples

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 25, 2016


A Piece of Mars: In this 480×270 m scene (0.3×0.17 mi), there are a bunch of “ripples” spaced by 5-20 m (the quotes are because we don’t know yet if these are ripples, dunes, or some other new kind of bedform). They’re old: they’re eroded by winds blowing from the bottom to the top of the frame (exposing layers on the upwind side), and if you look carefully you’ll see some craters superposed on them. The craters don’t have any obvious ejecta blankets, which suggests they’re not that young either, so there’s been enough time for the ejecta to erode away. (HiRISE ESP_017766_1535, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Stripes by wind and gravity

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 19, 2016


A Piece of Mars: This scene (800×450 m or 0.5×0.28 mi) is a steep slope, with high rocky outcrops on the upper right and both gullies and ripples heading downslope to the lower left. The wider, brighter stripes are gullies that were carved by stuff eroding from the outcrops and falling downhill, just like on Earth. Beneath that are some finer stripes: this time the straight lines are made by a combination of wind blowing sand into ripples (from upper left to lower right) and gravity elongating the ripples downslope (stretching them from upper right to lower left). (HiRISE ESP_044997_1755 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Windy windows

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 11, 2016


A Piece of Mars: Here’s a tiny bit (0.69×0.39 km or 0.43×0.24 mi) of Jezero crater, one of the candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover. On the bottom and left is high-standing volcanic terrain, former lava that flowed out on the crater floor. On the upper right is a much older deposit of stuff that piled up at the bottom of the lake that once, more than 3.5 billion years ago, filled the crater. Those lake deposits are so easy to erode that they’ve been worn down by the wind (see those bedforms there?) to the point that they’re now lower than the volcanic stuff. I wonder if they’ll eventually be completely covered by those ripples. (HiRISE ESP_037330_1990, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Reference:
Schon, S. C., J. W. Head, and C. I. Fassett (2012), An overfilled lacustrine system and progradational delta in Jezero crater, Mars: Implications for Noachian climate, Planet. Space Sci., 67(1), 28–45, doi:10.1016/j.pss.2012.02.003.

The wind paints

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 04, 2016


A Piece of Mars: For the last few billion years, the wind has (by far) moved more sediment around on Mars than any other geological process. Not tectonics, volcanism, fluvial activity, or impact cratering (although a case has been made for glacial activity). Here’s yet one more swipe at the ground, scouring off bright dust to reveal darker terrain underneath. (HiRISE ESP_044511_2005, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Three types of windblown piles of stuff

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - March 28, 2016


A Piece of Mars: The wind blows different sorts of sediment in different ways. Ultimately they pile up because some oddity in nature makes one spot accumulate more sediment than other spots, allowing that windblown pile of stuff to grow. Sometimes it’s because of the wind interacting with the shape of the pile, and sometimes it’s because of the trajectories of moving grains as the wind blows them along the ground. Here’s an example of three types adjacent to each other: 1) a big dune on the left (migrating towards the right), which is covered in 2) smaller ripples, and downwind of the big dune are 3) brighter intermediate-scale piles (that are surrounded by larger and, presumably, better-developed versions of the “smaller ripples”). (HiRISE ESP_044515_1620, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Dune shadows

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - March 16, 2016


A Piece of Mars: Normally I post in color, but sometimes you need to back out to the grayscale images to see the big awesome things. This scene is 4.6×2.6 km (2.8×1.6 mi); the conical hill is 1.4 km (0.89 mi) wide. Sand-laden wind from the right is blowing streamers of dunes around the hill, which leaves a wake that stretches downwind. Some of the luckier hills on Mars have lovely dunes scarves like this, slowly shifting over the centuries as the wind brings in more sand. (HiRISE ESP_044258_1715 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

How far does the wind blow stuff?

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - March 07, 2016


A Piece of Mars: Hargrave crater has an amazing array of colorful surfaces, each of which reflects a different type of rock (this scene is 480×270 m or 0.3×0.17 mi). I like the ripples sitting on top of it all; I’ve long thought that much of the material in those ripples hasn’t moved very far from where it originated. Here’s a good example of why. The ripples on the greenish surface have incorporated some local greenish material. The same is true of the tan ripples in the lower left. I’d bet most of this stuff has only moved as far as it took to make the ripple it’s in. (HiRISE ESP_044161_2005 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Sizes of worlds

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - February 25, 2016


A Piece of the Solar System: This isn’t my usual sort of post. But lately my 6 year old kid has been into planets, and thanks to the many informative videos on YouTube, has been reciting various names and numbers about the many worlds in the Solar System. I decided to show him just how much smaller than the Earth some of those worlds are. Here’s what I made for him. It’s not exhaustive, but it gives a good idea of just how small Pluto is relative to, say, the Moon. The scale is ~2 km/pixel. (Images attributable to NASA or ESA).

It’s a rock-eat-rock world

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - February 20, 2016


A Piece of Mars: This 738 x 415 m (0.46 x 0.26 mi) scene shows dark sand flowing down a channel bisected by a ~60 m (~200 ft) tall, thin “island”. That island, and many others around it (see the whole image), is what remains after windblown sand slowly carved away the rest of the rock, the same way rivers slowly cut through rock on Earth. The presence of the dark sand shows that the process is still active today. (HiRISE ESP_04400_1750, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Gravitational wave detection rumors may end on Feb 11

Cosmic Diary Marchis - February 08, 2016

It is official. NSF, together with scientists from Caltech, MIT and the LIGO collaboration will give an update on their effort to detect gravitational waves.

What is LIGO? Check out this article published in Arstechnica by Eric Berger.

I am not going to speculate on the announcement and will simply wait for it. Joe Giaime a California Institute of Technology physicist who manages the lab and also a professor at Louisiana State University was pretty clear in the Arstechnica interview about the way this group works: “We’re really kind of old school,” he said. “We analyze our data. If there’s anything interesting we write it up in papers. We send the papers to the journals. If and only if there’s an interesting discovery that passes muster, and it has been accepted for publication by a journal, then we blab about it. Anything before that, you’re not going to get anything out of me.”

So if they indeed have detected those gravitational waves, we will also get a paper.

Computer simulation of a black hole collision. When two black holes merge into one, enormous amounts of energy are released in the form of gravitational waves.

Below the official announcement.

THE FOLLOWING ITEM WAS ISSUED JOINTLY BY THE CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY IN PASADENA, THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY IN CAMBRIDGE, AND THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION IN ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, AND IS FORWARDED FOR YOUR INFORMATION. FORWARDING DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT BY THE AMERICAN ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY.

8 February 2016

** Contact details appear below. **

SCIENTISTS TO PROVIDE UPDATE ON THE SEARCH FOR GRAVITATIONAL WAVES THURSDAY

** Synopsis: 100 years after Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, the National Science Foundation gathers scientists from Caltech, MIT, and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration to update the scientific community on efforts to detect them. **

Journalists are invited to join the National Science Foundation as it brings together scientists from Caltech, MIT, and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) this Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EST (15:30 UTC/GMT) at the National Press Club for a status report on the effort to detect gravitational waves — or ripples in the fabric of spacetime — using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Albert Einstein’s prediction of the existence of gravitational waves. With interest in this topic piqued by the centennial, the group will discuss their ongoing efforts to observe gravitational waves.

LIGO, a system of two identical detectors carefully constructed to detect incredibly tiny vibrations from passing gravitational waves, was conceived and built by MIT and Caltech researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation, with significant contributions from other U.S. and international partners. The twin detectors are located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. Research and analysis of data from the detectors is carried out by a global group of scientists, including the LSC, which includes the GEO600 Collaboration, and the VIRGO Collaboration.

When:

Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016

10:30 am US EST (7:30 am US PST, 15:30 UTC/GMT)

Where:

The National Press Club

Holeman Lounge

529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor

Washington, DC 20045

Media RSVP:

Seating is extremely limited, but an overflow room will be available where reporters can still ask questions and have access to additional subject matters to interview after the press conference. Only the first 50 journalists to arrive will be seated in the main room. All interested journalists should RSVP to any of the media contacts listed below to ensure press credentials are prepared ahead of time. A mult box will be available for broadcast media, and the Press Club is equipped with wireless access.

Live Webcast:

For press not based in the Washington, D.C. area, this event will be simulcast live online, and we will try to answer some questions submitted remotely. For details about how to participate remotely, please contact anyone listed below.

Contacts:

Tom Waldman

Caltech

+1 (626) 395-5832, cell: +1 (818) 274-2729

twaldman@caltech.edu

Kimberly Allen

MIT

+1 (617) 253-2702, cell: +1 (617) 852-6094

allenkc@mit.edu

Ivy Kupec

NSF

+1 (703) 292-8796, cell: +1 (703) 225-8216

ikupec@nsf.gov

The smallest dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - February 08, 2016


A Piece of Mars: There are two small dome-shaped dunes in this frame (0.96×0.54 or 0.6×0.33 mi). If they got any larger, they’d form slip faces. Any smaller and they’d just be random drifts of windblown sand. Dunes form at a particular size (~125 m in this case) related to the distance it takes for sand grains to accelerate to the background wind speed. This distance is bigger on Mars than on Earth, where the smallest dunes are ~20 m across. (HiRISE ESP_044198_1480 NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Remnants of erosion

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - January 25, 2016


A Piece of Mars: The gray area in the center of the 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) area is an erosional remnant: once, more of this area was covered by the gray stuff, but some of it has eroded away (most likely by the wind) to reveal the underlying terrain below. The wind probably blew from upper left to lower right, lifting away the finer grains and leaving behind the larger, heavier ones. Some of the larger grains have formed into ripples, that in some places may be the only sign that the overlying layer was ever there. (HiRISE ESP_043136_2020, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

What the Hack

ENCORE  A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.

The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.

Guests:

•   Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California

•   Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec

•   Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm

•   Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST

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•   Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

 

First released November 11, 2013.

Skeptic Check: Evolutionary Arms Race

ENCORE It’s hard to imagine the twists and turns of evolution that gave rise to Homo Sapiens. After all, it required geologic time, and the existence of many long-gone species that were once close relatives. That may be one reason why – according to a recent poll – one-third of all Americans reject the theory of evolution. They prefer to believe that humans and other living organisms have existed in their current form since the beginning of time.

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But if you’ve ever been sick, you’ve been the victim of evolution on a very observable time scale. Nasty viruses and bacteria take full advantage of evolutionary forces to adapt to new hosts. And they can do it quickly.

Discover how comparing the deadly 1918 flu virus with variants today may help us prevent the next pandemic. Also, while antibiotic resistance is threatening to become a major health crisis, better understanding of how bacteria evolve their defenses against our drugs may help us out.

And the geneticist who sequenced the Neanderthal genome says yes, our hirsute neighbors co-mingled with humans.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

•   Svante Pääbo – Evolutionary geneticist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

•   Ann Reid – – Molecular biologist, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California

•   Martin Blaser – Microbiologist, New York University School of Medicine, member of the National Academy of Sciences, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

•   Gautam Dantas – Pathologist, immunologist, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis

First released March 31, 2014.

It's All Relative

A century ago, Albert Einstein rewrote our understanding of physics with his Theory of General Relativity. Our intuitive ideas about space, time, mass, and gravity turned out to be wrong.

Find out how this masterwork changed our understanding of how the universe works and why you can thank Einstein whenever you turn on your GPS.

Also, high-profile experiments looking for gravitational waves and for black holes will put the theories of the German genius to the test – will they pass?

And why the story of a box, a Geiger counter, and a zombie cat made Einstein and his friend Erwin Schrödinger uneasy about the quantum physics revolution.

Guests:

•   Jeffrey Bennett – Astronomer, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

•   Beverly Berger – Theoretical physicist and the Secretary for the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation

•   Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves

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•  Paul Halpern – Physicist at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, author of Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics

And To Space We Return

Earth may be the cradle of life, but our bodies are filled with materials cooked up billions of years ago in the scorching centers of stars. As Carl Sagan said, “We are all stardust.” We came from space, and some say it is to space we will return.

Discover an astronomer’s quest to track down remains of these ancient chemical kitchens. Plus, a scientist who says that it’s in our DNA to explore – and not just the nearby worlds of the solar system, but perhaps far beyond.

But would be still be human when we arrive? Hear what biological and cultural changes we might undergo in a multi-generational interstellar voyage.

Guests:

 •   Timothy Beers – Astronomer, University of Notre Dame

•   Chris Impey – Astronomer, University of Arizona, author of Beyond: Our Future in Space

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•   Cameron Smith – Archaeologist, Portland State University

Math's Days Are Numbered

ENCORE  Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.

But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.

An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.

Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.

And why mathematics = love.

Guests:

•   Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.

•   Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet , and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.

•   Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

•   Rob ManningFlight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover

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•   Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality . His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.

 

First released December 2, 2015.

Skeptic Check: After the Hereafter

There are few enduring truths, but one is that no one gets out of life alive. What’s less certain is what comes next. Does everything stop with death, or are we transported to another plane of existence? First-hand accounts of people who claim to have visited heaven are offered as proof of an afterlife. Now the author of one bestseller admits that his story was fabricated.

We’ll look at the genre of “heaven tourism” to see if it has anything to say about the possible existence of the hereafter, and why the idea of an afterlife seriously influences how we live our lives on Earth.

Also, a neurologist describes what is going on in the brain during near-death and other out-of-body experiences.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

•   Ben Radford – Paranormal investigator, research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author of the Discovery News article, “Why People Believed Boy’s ‘Visit to Heaven’ Story”

•   Greg Garrett – Professor of English at Baylor University, writer on books, culture and religion for the Huffington Post, and author of Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination

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•   Steven Novella – Professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine and host of the “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast

They Know Who You Are

You’re a private person. But as long as you’re on-line and have skin and hair, you’re shedding little bits of data and DNA everywhere you go. Find out how that personal information – whether or not it’s used against you – is no longer solely your own. Are your private thoughts next?

A security expert shares stories of ingenious computer hacking … a forensic scientist develops tools to create a mug shot based on a snippet of DNA … and from the frontiers of neuroscience: mind reading may no longer be the stuff of sketchy psychics.

Guests:

•   Marc Goodman – Global security advisor, founder, Future Crimes Institute, author of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

•   Susan Walsh – Forensic geneticist, Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis

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•   Marvin Chun – Psychologist, Yale University

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