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2017-02-22. NASA telescope reveals largest batch of Earth-size, habitable-zone planets around single star.
NASA RELEASE 17-015. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: NASA announced the discovery of the most Earth-sized planets found in the habitable zone of a single star, called TRAPPIST-1. This system of seven rocky worlds–all of them with the potential for water on their surface–is an exciting discovery in the search for life on other worlds. There is the possibility that future study of this unique planetary system could reveal conditions suitable for life.... https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around; See also NASA full press conference on discovery of 7 Earth-like exoplanets (37 min), TRAPPIST-1e Travel Poster, NY Times article - 7 Earth-Size Planets Orbit Dwarf Star, NASA and European Astronomers Say (includes video clip), JPL video - NASA & TRAPPIST-1: A Treasure Trove of Planets Found.
By Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further. It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse. ...One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration. The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.... https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/world/americas/mexico-city-sinking.html
By CBC News, Thomson Reuters. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday. The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 950 kilometres in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years. "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further. ...The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life," Russell said.... http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/organic-material-found-chilly-ceres-180962227/
By BBC News. For GSS Life and Climate chapter 7. Excerpt: Say hello to Zealandia, a huge landmass almost entirely submerged in the southwest Pacific. .you might have heard of its highest mountains, the only bits showing above water: New Zealand. Scientists say it qualifies as a continent and have now made a renewed push for it to be recognised as such. In a paper published in the Geological Society of America's Journal, researchers explain that Zealandia measures five million sq km (1.9m sq miles) which is about two thirds of neighbouring Australia. Some 94% of that area is underwater with only a few islands and three major landmasses sticking out above the surface: New Zealand's North and South Islands and New Caledonia. You might think being above water is crucial to making the cut as a continent, but the researchers looked at a different set of criteria, all of which are met by the new kid in town. ...elevation above the surrounding area ...distinctive geology ...a well-defined area ...a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor.... http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39000936
By Kimiko de Freitas-Tamura, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: LONDON — Every winter, as if on cue, the coughing begins. ...Tara Carey... coughs at work. And she coughs while cycling to her office, on a road so toxic that for a brief period last month the air pollution there was greater than in infamously smoggy Beijing. ...In Ms. Carey’s view, she said the only reasonable explanation for her illness was the pollution to which she was exposed over the last six years cycling through thick traffic on Brixton Road, one of London’s busiest and most noxious routes. ...London is choking from record levels of pollution, much of it caused by diesel cars and trucks, as well as wood-burning fires in private homes, a growing trend. It has been bad enough to evoke comparisons to the Great Smog of December 1952, when fumes from factories and house chimneys are thought to have killed as many as 12,000 Londoners. That crisis led to the landmark Clean Air Act in 1956. ...London’s air pollution today is different from seven decades ago, and more insidious. No longer thick as “pea soup,” as it was traditionally described, the city’s air is now laced with nitrogen dioxide — a toxic gas mostly produced by vehicles with diesel engines. The pollution is linked to 23,500 deaths in Britain each year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. ...The current problem is, in part, an unintended consequence of previous efforts to aid the environment. The British government provided financial incentives to encourage a shift to diesel engines because laboratory tests suggested that would cut harmful emissions and combat climate change. Yet, it turned out that diesel cars emit on average five times as much emissions in real-world driving conditions as in the tests, according to a British Department for Transport study. “No one at the time thought of the consequences of increased nitrogen dioxide emissions from diesel, and the policy of incentivizing diesel was so successful that an awful lot of people bought diesel cars,” said Anna Heslop, a lawyer at ClientEarth.... Air pollution is a more significant public health hazard in China, India and Eastern Europe, where the average annual levels of PM2.5 pollution, the fine soot particles and molecules that pose the greatest danger to health, are up to 10 times as high as in London. But in mid-January in Brixton, ...hourly mean levels of PM2.5 were higher than in Beijing.... https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/world/europe/london-smog-air-pollution.html
By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle. For GSS Energy Use chapter 5. Excerpt: A row of tall white boxes by the side of a Sierra foothills highway could represent a key piece of California’s future electric grid. Made by Tesla, the boxes contain thousands of battery cells — the same cells that power Tesla’s luxury cars. But at this installation, at a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. substation in Browns Valley (Yuba County), the batteries soak up electricity whenever it’s cheap and feed it back onto the grid when demand hits its daily peak. The project, operational since the start of the month, represents a collaboration between PG&E and Tesla on one of California’s biggest energy goals: storage. As part of the fight against climate change, California is adding solar power at a rapid clip, at times flooding the grid with more renewable power than it needs. That flood ebbs by late afternoon, when the demand for electricity hits its peak. So state regulators have ordered utilities to invest in projects to store energy when it’s plentiful and use it when it’s needed most. ...PG&E has long experience with energy storage. Its Helms Pumped Storage Plant, which opened in 1984, uses water flowing through tunnels between two mountain reservoirs at different elevations to store up to 1,212 megawatts of electricity.... http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Tesla-plugs-big-batteries-into-PG-E-s-electric-10936052.php
By Adam Vaughn, The Guardian. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: Renewable energy sources made up nearly 9/10 of new power added to Europe’s electricity grids last year, in a sign of the continent’s rapid shift away from fossil fuels. But industry leaders said they were worried about the lack of political support beyond 2020, when binding EU renewable energy targets end. Of the 24.5 GW of new capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21.1 GW – or 86% – was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro. That eclipsed the previous high-water mark of 79% in 2014. For the first time, wind farms accounted for more than half of the capacity installed, the data from trade body WindEurope showed. Wind power overtook coal, to become the EU’s 2nd largest form of power capacity after gas. However, due to the technology’s intermittent nature, coal still meets more of the bloc’s electricity demand.... https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/09/new-energy-europe-renewable-sources-2016
National Geographic. For GSS Energy Use chapter 1. Excerpt: 2min 49sec video These amazing windmills are among the oldest in the world. Located in the Iranian town of Nashtifan, initially named Nish Toofan, or "storm's sting," the windmills have withstood winds of up to 74 miles an hour. With the design thought to have been created in eastern Persia between 500-900 A.D., they have been in use for several centuries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qqifEdqf5g&feature=youtu.be
By Dan Joling, Associated Press. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Seabird biologist David Irons drove recently to the Prince William Sound community of Whittier to check on a friend's boat and spotted white blobs along the tide line of the rocky Alaska beach. ...A closer look revealed that the white patches were emaciated common murres, one of North America's most abundant seabirds, washed ashore after apparently starving to death. ...Murre die-offs have occurred in previous winters but not in the numbers Alaska is seeing. Federal researchers won't estimate the number, and are trying to gauge the scope and cause of the die-off while acknowledging there's little they can do. Scientists say the die-offs could be a sign of ecosystem changes that have reduced the numbers of the forage fish that murres depend upon. Warmer water surface temperatures, possibly due to global warming or the El Nino weather pattern, may have affected murre prey, including herring, capelin and juvenile pollock.... http://www.usnews.com/news/science/news/articles/2016-01-12/starvation-suspected-in-massive-die-off-of-alaska-seabirds
By Jugal K. Patel, The New York Times. For GSS Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day. The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.... https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/07/science/earth/antarctic-crack.html