* Posts by Mike Richards

3608 posts • joined 28 Feb 2007

Boffins, tourists threaten Antarctica with alien invasion

Mike Richards

Science

There's a good scientific reason for not wanting tourists carrying seeds to Antarctica - because it spoils research into how nature colonises formerly barren areas.

A good comparison is with the Icelandic island of Surtsey which was formed between 1963 and 1967. The island and its surrounding waters are closed to the public and can only be accessed by accredited scientists who are performing a long term study of how the island is being colonised from a bare rock to one that now holds hundreds of different species.

Even then they have to take care about accidentally introducing new species, in one case a tomato plant sprouted on Surtsey; it had from a seed that had escaped from someone's lunch. Even though there was almost no risk of the plant fruiting in the shall we say - brisk - Icelandic summer, the plant was torn up and removed from Surtsey to avoid contamination.

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Robot NIGHTMARE sets new leggy-bot speed record

Mike Richards

Obviously

We have to get to work resurrecting dinosaurs immediately - packs of velociraptors are the only things that will be able ward off the killer robots.

There is literally nothing that can go wrong with this plan.

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China aims its most powerful rocket ever AT THE MOON

Mike Richards

Re: "NASA's mighty Saturn V [...] is capable of 3,400 metric tons."

The blueprints exist, the assembly facilities are still standing and the launchpads could be modified back to Saturn V spec - the only things the US lacks right now is a determination to get back into space and the money.

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Space FIREBALL over Blighty sparks hunt for rich meteorite

Mike Richards

"Our own origins are locked up in these pieces of rock. They are pristine material from the beginning of the solar system and hold the ingredients of life. "

That rather depends on the meteorite (if anything survives). Chondrites - especially the carbonaceous chondrites are almost pristine - only lacking some of the volatile elements with very early dates, and yes, they contain amino acids; but many other types of meteorite are mineralogically highly evolved with a large range of dates; eucrites from Vesta are over 200 My younger than most meteorites, whilst shergottites from Mars are as young as 180My.

If this chunk did hit the surface, there's not a huge chance of finding it; 90%+ of all known meteorites are stony, which to the untrained eye look like - well - stones. But good luck to anyone who does find a meteorite - just hope it's a pallasite:

http://www.arizonaskiesmeteorites.com/AZ_Skies_Links/Esquel/371gEsquel/

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Asteroid could SMASH INTO EARTH in 2040

Mike Richards

Re: Hypothetically speaking...

A rule of thumb for impacts is to take the size of the object and multiply by ten to get the size of the impact crater.

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Xeroxiraptor: Boffins to print 3D robot dinosaur

Mike Richards

I demand all other science (yes even LOHAN) is stopped this moment until robot dinosaurs are made real.

And can we scrap this silly 'scaled down' requirement?

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RIP: Peak Oil - we won't be running out any time soon

Mike Richards

Well the unconventional gas figures don't stand much scrutiny so I don't think we should put too much faith in another bunch dealing with unconventional oil reserves.

The most common figure cited for American gas reserves is 2,170 trillion cubic feet (tcf) from the Potential Gas Committee. Which is often said to be a 95-year supply if 2010 consumption figures are maintained.

Of that, 273 tcf are "proved reserves," stuff we are fairly sure is there and can be produced economically. 536.6 tcf are "probable" from existing fields, it probably exists and might be economically recoverable. 687.7 tcf is "possible" from new fields - gas that might be in new fields if and when we find them and might be recoverable. Beyond that are 518.3 tcf of "speculative," gas - the meaning is in the title and 176 tcf for coalfield gas of which 90% has not been proven.

In short the US has 11 years of proven gas, 21 of proven and possible reserves and everything after that is an unknown. And that's not even taking into account the percentage of any gas that can be recovered from a field.

As for the rig counts - does it show there is a huge untapped supply of gas out there? No, it shows that shale needs a lot more rigs than conventional reserves and that shale gas wells are tapped out much more quickly than traditional gas wells.

Oh and some of the operators might have been overstating production and reserves:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8212

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Met Office wants better supercomputer to predict EXTREME weather

Mike Richards

Re: make greater use of probabilistic information in their weather forecasts

I should be all in favour of probabilistic forecasting, except this is the country where people have trouble with concepts like 'greater than' and 'less than'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2007/nov/08/minusagraspforfigures

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CRACK made by quakes FOUND ON MOON

Mike Richards

More likely they're down to the interior of the Moon contracting as it has cooled.

The range on the ages of these features is pretty wide; they're anywhere from 1.2 Gya to 50 Mya years ago (most probably towards the younger end of the scale). Lunar geologists have an especially broad definition of 'recent' - even compared to terrestrial geologists.

That there was much going on on the Moon after 1 Gya is interesting enough; the youngest feature with a firm(ish) date is the Compton–Belkovich thorium anomaly, a patch of highly evolved silicic rock on the lunar far side which has been estimated at 800 Mya - 1 Gya.

It'd be interesting to see if any of the glowing Transient Lunar Phenomena which are occasionally reported by astronomers can be tied to these faults. One of the explanations for TLPs is that gas might still be coming out of the interior of the Moon.

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Mike Richards

Re: Very cool...

'Does the moon still have a hot core? Is there anyway to find out (from earth)? Probably not unless one observed some sort of Luna volcano??'

The exact state of the Moon's core is uncertain. Apollo left a series of ALSEPs packages on the surface to record heat flow from the interior and register impacts which could have revealed the structure of the interior. In their period of operation we found out the heat flow is very low, but nothing big enough to send a good shock through the core hit the Moon before the instruments were turned off. Having said that, some top notch seismic boffinry has been done on the Moon.

The best estimate is that the lunar core is tiny - no more than 350km across. It's probably nickel-iron alloy with sulfur and silicon like the Earth's core. It is suggested there is a solid or mostly solid inner core about half the diameter of the whole core. The outer core is probably liquid but not convecting violently like the Earth's (hence no appreciable lunar magnetic field), but this is somewhat disputed.

Over that is the mantle which is divided into two, a lower zone about 500km in diameter which appears to be either partially molten or highly plastic and might contain sizeable pockets of magma. The outer mantle is relatively cold, solid and appears not to contain any sizeable amounts of magma.

There has been some mathematical and laboratory modelling of the lunar interior by VU University Amsterdam which used the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility to examine the behaviour of postulated lunar magma under very high temperatures and pressures. Their discovery is that the titanium-rich magmas responsible for forming the rocks returned by Apollo and Luna are unlikely to be able to rise through the lunar mantle because they are denser than the warm mantle. However, if the mantle continues to cool and become denser, we could see a resumption of vulcanism on the Moon.

HTH.

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Anglo-French nuke pact blesses 4th-gen reactors

Mike Richards

2020

Seems very optimistic to design, prototype and build a new reactor design by 2020. Especially one with sodium cooling which has never been trouble-free in the past. Good luck to them, but I wouldn't be putting money on seeing the big red switch (there is a big red switch isn't there?) being pressed in eight years' time.

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Two UK airports scrap IRIS eye-scanners

Mike Richards

Hmmm

So if Blunkett, Clarke, Blears and the very lovely Meg Hillier had had their way we'd have now been talking about scrapping tens of thousands of them. If only they'd been told in advance this wasn't going to work...

....oh, in news just breaking - they were.

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Swiss space-cleaning bot grabs flying junk, hurls itself into furnace

Mike Richards

Re: "systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"

Junk is a problem in geostationary orbit. So far no collisions have occurred, but that has been through foresight.

Gravitational perturbations from the Sun and Moon mean that satellites don't remain on station. All geosynchronous satellites require regular 'station keeping' burns to keep them more or less in place. After they have been abandoned they can wander significantly away from where we thought they are and since comms sats are clustered over the most advantageous positions, that is a serious risk. Operators are now required to demonstrate that their satellites can be fired into a graveyard orbit a few hundred km further away from Earth at the end of their lives.

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Shakira attacked by sea lion who mistook BlackBerry for a 'fish'

Mike Richards

I think this can only be properly visualised using the medium of Playmobil.

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Pope's PR says Vatican in grip of WikiLeaks-style scandal

Mike Richards

Perhaps the Catholic Church would be less objectionable if it followed the National Trust and sold more tea towels?

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Mars, Europe losers in Obama's 2013 NASA budget

Mike Richards

Probably need to be a Russian rocket. ExoMars was going to use a pair of Atlas Vs. A couple of Protons might be able to do the same job.

But yes, let's throw ExoMars open to the Russians, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and anyone else who wants to explore Mars.

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Tesco offers broadband for LESS THAN THE PRICE OF A PINT

Mike Richards

That'll be the three downloads or fewer service then.

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NASA plans manned Deep Space Moon outpost

Mike Richards

Apollo far side mission

Apollo 17's Harrison Schmidt proposed an Apollo mission to the lunar far side with a landing site in the crater Tsiolkovskiy. It would have used a TIROS satellite orbiting around L2 to talk back to Earth.

It never went much beyond a 'what if?' and the budget cuts to Apollo doomed it.

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Space: 1999 returning to TV?

Mike Richards

UFO

Going back to it isn't entirely brilliant. There's still the lovely Gabrielle Drake, the UFOs still make that fabulous noise and the SHADOmobiles are ace - but why is it shot like a porn movie?

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Mike Richards

Silly nuclear explosions?

SILLY NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS?

I was 8 - watching that much stuff blow up was precisely what I wanted to see. I don't want a big black box I want stuff blowing up.

Space 1999's first episode might go a long way to explaining my choice of chemistry...

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Mike Richards

You're forgetting the 1st Law of Andersonian physics

Does it look cool?

The Eagles look incredibly cool - therefore everything else goes by the wayside.

I'd really hope they'd remake it with models - 'Moon' a couple of years ago looked so much more real (and not too dissimilar from Space 1999) because they used whacking great models rather than pixels.

The 2nd Law of Andersonian physics is that stuff blows up - regularly. Even stuff that shouldn't blow up. This is a good thing. Unless you're near the stuff blowing up.

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Coming to a continent near you: America

Mike Richards

Possibly.

The Atlantic is a mature ocean, sooner or later it will begin to see subduction occurring around its margins (currently really only happening in the Caribbean margin, in South Sandwich and possibly getting started off Portugal.

If that happens, the UK might one day have some lovely volcanoes whose effect on house prices will really upset the Daily Mail.

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Mike Richards

The Urals are a suture between two former continents when the former Siberian plate collided with Pangaea, so yep it is perfectly correct for geologists consider them to mark a continental divide as the geology on either side is so profoundly different.

But then, you could claim the same for most of Scotland and North Wales which are geologically much more similar to Greenland than they are to London.

The only really new bit in this work is the possible location of the new supercontinent (and it's a pretty safe bet none of us will be around to prove otherwise). That the Atlantic was widening, the Pacific floor being subducted and Africa and India burrowing into the belly of Eurasia is Geology 101. But the animations are nice.

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Russians drill into buried 20 million-year-old Antarctic lake

Mike Richards

Or a Krynoid.

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US tweet deportation: Chilling behind-the-scenes photos

Mike Richards

So long as you are in the US

You are afforded the protection of the Constitution whether you are a citizen or no. Outside the US - then that's asking for a cruise missiling.

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Second 'Blue Marble' NASA sat pic apes Apollo 17's stunner

Mike Richards

That I grant you, but can I nominate second place?

It has to be the first shot of the Earth Moon system which was captured by Voyager 1 from over 7 million miles out.

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/image/planetary/earth/vgr_earth_moon.jpg

BTW if you've never seen them, the Earthrise images sent back by the Soviet Zond 7 probe (an unmanned trial of a possible manned lunar mission) are quite beautiful:

http://www.mentallandscape.com/C_Zond07_1.jpg

http://www.mentallandscape.com/C_Zond07_6.jpg

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Cosmic rays blamed for Phobos-Grunt fiasco

Mike Richards

Mars 6 and Mars 7 - same problem

Both probes were effectively dead on arrival at Mars because of radiation damage to their microprocessors. Mars 6 deployed its lander but it died before it could reach the Martian surface - some data about the atmosphere's composition was returned however. Mars 7 ejected its lander too early for the same reason, both the lander and the orbital module went into orbit around the Sun.

What's shocking is that this happened in 1973.

In 1988 and 1989 respectively, the two Fobos probes were lost because of software issues.

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Nikon stretches Coolpix focal-range beyond belief

Mike Richards

It might just be the lighting

But that looks like a very plasticky camera with none-too-hot build quality.

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Airbrushed Rachel Weisz gets watchdog hot under the collar

Mike Richards

With the above

I'm glad someone told me who that was in the photo, she looks nothing like Rachel Weisz - more like a monochrome muppet out of 'Avatar'.

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Brit pair deported from US for 'destroy America' tweet

Mike Richards

Directions to Robin Hood airport

(Taken from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)

Start from Dover, drive north, keep driving north, turn south at Hadrian's Wall, take the 'Noddinhum' exit, third forest on the right.

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Mike Richards

Who'd have thought it

Too dumb to be allowed into LA.

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SpaceShipOne man, Nobel boffins: DON'T PANIC on global warming

Mike Richards

You're not thinking big enough

Plutonium 239 produces 2W/kg in decay heat. A few hundred kilos of that should keep you nice and toasty and put an end to any problems with the neighbours just as soon as you declare yourself an independent nuclear state.

There are 87 tons of the stuff in the UK right now - we should be parcelling it up to help old people stay warm this winter.

I have so many good ideas.

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Climategate ruling: FOIA requests cover backup servers too

Mike Richards

'Remember it's not that long since scientists told us we were heading for a new ice age. They are now telling us that theory was wrong then so I don't propose to blindly trust them now.'

No they weren't - this is a myth.

It was only ever a small minority of climate scientists who thought the Earth was due to enter a period of cooling before the onset of another glacial episode. A short lived period of relative cooling in the 1970s wasn't well understood, but there was a theory that interglacials (such as the one we're going through) lasted about 10k years, and we were about 10k years into the Holocene interglacial - so the only way for temperatures to go was down and this might be the first sign of a new glacial advance. We now know that there is no such thing as a fixed length interglacial - they are much more irregular and tend to be much longer lived - this has now been resolved thanks to deep ice cores. We are now also much more aware how local cooling in the Pacific ocean can bring about cooler weather conditions across the globe over a period of years.

The majority of scientists were already warning that carbon emissions were forcing temperatures higher. There was no year from 1965 onwards where cooling predictions were more common than warming ones and they pretty much all stopped by 1977. The best summary of the research at the time:

Peterson, Thomas C.; William M. Connolley, and John Fleck (2008). "The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 89 (9): 1325–1337

http://ams.confex.com/ams/pdfpapers/131047.pdf

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Spring launch for Apple OLED TV with Siri, says retail mole

Mike Richards

Don't forget

The televisual deep throat also let on the mind-blowing factoid that Apple was going to release something that was 'very thin'.

Here's my stab-in-the-dark prediction for which I'm dropping the usual consultancy fee - it will also be very shiny.

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Boffins make graphene micro-distillery

Mike Richards

D2O

I wonder if it also selectively allows H2O to pass, leaving the other side enriched in D2O? Put enough of them together and you could have a nice little heavy water plant.

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Russian supply ship heads for ISS, space garbage crashes into Pacific

Mike Richards

'How much extra power would it take to dump the space garbage on the moon?'

To go to the Moon from the ISS, you'd have to accelerate from c. 7kms-1 low Earth orbit velocity to c. 11kms-1 in order to achieve escape velocity. So the short answer is: 'a lot'.

There are also complexities about choosing when you can go as the ISS's orbit is inclined with respect to that of the Earth-Moon system.

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Whacked moon rocks yield up their secrets

Mike Richards

Except

It's not an assumption, it's a fact. Not only did Apollo bring back pieces of meteorite in their samples, but impacts have actually been observed:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/02sep_lunarperseids/

(and many more).

On Earth you can use shocked quartz to identify impact sites, but there's precious little quartz in lunar rocks.

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Starship Voyager dumped into skip

Mike Richards

Magnolia is so yesterday

Now it's 'taupe', or if you want to get on to the bleeding edge of theoretical interior design - 'oatmeal'.

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Mike Richards

Can you answer an advanced theological question?

Where do tealights fit into all this? The useless bloody things cast no useful amount of light or heat but appear to be needed by the skip load in order to achieve full domestic harmony.

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Iranian gov mouthpiece Press TV finally gets taken off the air in the UK

Mike Richards

Phew!

It'll mean the all-British Daily Express will be able to reclaim pole position for purveyor of weird conspiracy theories and epic idiocy masquerading as news.

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NASA shuts off Voyager 1's central heating

Mike Richards

Is it the longest lived probe yet?

Pioneer 6 lasted 35 years until 2000, so Voyager is either about to, or already has exceeded this lifetime.

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Ancient tulip-like stomach-onna-stick creatures found in Rockies

Mike Richards

The early Cambrian must have been like some sort of ITV game show 'tonight only one family will be going through into the Ordovician, the others will be turned into coal. We asked 100 trilobites...'

Superficially it has some similarities to Crinoids which pop up in the Ordovician and were largely extinctified in the Permian. But this is a bilaterally symmetric beastie whereas crinoids (like other echinoderms) have five-fold symmetry.

The fossils in the article are amazing. I'd love to have one - but not quite as much as I'd like a tyrannosaur in the living room...

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Apple launches three-pronged education assault

Mike Richards

Exclusive

Anything you publish via iBooks is exclusive to Apple.

No thanks.

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Australia, US agree to space junk talks

Mike Richards

You didn't win the caption competition for Visit Australia did you?

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Russian boffins: US radar didn't fry Phobos-Grunt

Mike Richards

Mars probes and microprocessors

The Russians really haven't had much luck with microchips to Mars. Both Mars 6 and Mars 7 returned huge amounts of garbage when they finally reached the planet because solar radiation had eaten their microprocessors.

Not that the software was much better; Fobos 1 received an untested software patch that resulted in it losing lock on the Sun and being unable to charge its batteries. Fobos 2's computer failed, but IIRC it was never determined if the error was hardware or software.

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Mars attacks! Morocco pelted with rocks from the Red Planet

Mike Richards

Mars is the only candidate for the various shergottites, nakhlites and chassignites that have been found.

Unlike almost all other meteorites (with the exception of the lunar meteorites) they don't date to 4.6Gya, they have been radio dated to between 1.3Gya and 0.18Gya implying they came from a planet that was geologically active until relatively recently.

Their mineralogy which is generally magic to ultramafic - similar to that of the Earth's Mantle, again suggesting their origin was a planet that has differentiated.

Gas trapped in glass inclusions in the shergottites have the exact isotopic ratios as that returned from Martian probes.

Finally, some of the meteorites contain minerals that are only formed by weather in wet conditions.

In short, Mars is the only candidate.

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NASA study identifies the ‘low hanging fruit’ in climate change

Mike Richards

upgrading family cooking stoves (what, my Kenmore?)

You're off the hook - they're worried about people who have to burn wood, dung or kerosene in stoves or for lighting and heat. Most stoves in the developing world haven't changed in the last few thousand years and are very inefficient. They produce huge amounts of tiny particles that cause long term health problems. Producing a more efficient stove (of which plenty of simple, appropriate designs that can be built in the community that use them already exists) would help solve this problem, it would free up people's time as they would need to gather less fuel, improve their financial situation if they have to buy fuel and it would be good for the environment if fewer trees were hacked down for firewood.

If only we could do the same for the bloody goats that people think make great charity gifts when in fact they help desertification.

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Busted Phobos-Grunt in harmless splashdown

Mike Richards

Russia also placed its last Mars probe - Mars 96 - in the Acific off the cast of Chile, do perhaps Fobos Grunt has gone to join its friend.

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Murdoch slams White House over SOPA in Twitter row

Mike Richards

With any luck some of m'learned friends will soon be paid spectacularly well to do just that.

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UK student faces extradition to US after piracy case ruling

Mike Richards

Interestingly

The US legal system, unlike DVDs, is multi region.

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