Are we close to bringing back supersonic travel?

Remember the Concorde? The supersonic passenger jet that flew from 1969 to almost 2000. It was not cost effective for the airlines, and extravagantly expensive for passengers. It was also cramped. The luxury was being able to fly from New York to London in about 3 hours! The Concorde had a big problem, the sonic boom it created when flying at supersonic speed. This led to governments restricting where it could fly supersonically and was a major factor in it not being economical to continue flying. That and a very advanced airframe that was getting old. The return of supersonic passenger travel may be coming closer to reality thanks to NASA’s efforts to define a new standard for low sonic booms. Several NASA aeronautics researchers will present their work in Atlanta this week at Aviation 2014, an annual event of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. They will share with the global aviation community the progress they are making in overcoming some of the biggest hurdles to supersonic passenger travel.

Owl Monkeys are great Fathers! And they are loyal to their mates!

Tomorrow is Father's day and animals are not normally thought of as being good fathers. For most species, the mothers do most of the work feeding and nurturing their young. Owl monkeys appear to be an exception! If there were a competition for "best father" in the animal kingdom, owl monkeys might very well win. Why? Because father owl monkeys provide most of the care needed by their young--carrying them almost all the time, even when chased by predators. By contrast, caregiving from owl monkey mothers to their young is limited almost exclusively to nursing. Considering the high prevalence of "deadbeat dads" and even "cannibal dads" in the animal kingdom, why--of all creatures--are father owl monkeys so attentive and protective of their young? This question is answered by Patricia C. Wright of Stony Brook University in the accompanying video.

Using too much fertilizer is bad for crops AND bad for climate!

Using too much fertilizer is a very bad idea. It doesn't help crops, and in fact can be harmful to them. Excess fertilizer runs off and contributes to river and stream contamination and a new study shows that it is bad for the climate too! But farmers sometimes think that if some is good, more MUST be better! Helping farmers around the globe apply more precise amounts of fertilizer nitrogen is a great objective that can improve crop yields, reduce pollution, and combat climate change. That's the conclusion of a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the paper, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) provide an improved prediction of nitrogen fertilizer's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural fields.

Playing God with plants!

Plants make and store energy from the sun using a process called photosynthesis. This process has evolved on planet earth over millions of years. How can we mess with plant DNA to improve on what nature has evolved? Three research teams--each comprised of scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom--have been awarded a second round of funding to continue research on news ways to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis. The ultimate goal of this potentially high-impact research is to develop methods to increase yields of important crops that are harvested for food and sustainable biofuels. But if this research is successful, it may also be used to support reforestation efforts and efforts to increase the productivity of trees for the manufacture of wood and paper and thousands of other products that are derived from wood and chemicals extracted from trees. Another reason why photosynthesis is an important research topic: It has made the Earth hospitable for life by generating food and oxygen.

Why don’t building owners install modern controls?

Commercial buildings use large amounts of electricity and natural gas. Significant reductions in energy use can be achieved by installing new modern systems but this requires a significant capital cost, It is possible to install modern control systems at much lower cost and these can also significantly reduce energy use, and improve comfort at the same time! A new study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shows that commercial buildings could cut their heating and cooling electricity use by an average of 57 percent with advanced energy-efficiency controls, according to a year-long trial of the controls at malls, grocery stores and other buildings across the country. The study demonstrated higher energy savings than what was predicted in earlier computer simulations by the same researchers.

Climate Change on JUPITER

We are very concerned with the changing climate on Earth. The climate on other planets is more difficult to study, and direct observations are impossible, save some observations from the Mars rovers. Jupiter has an atmosphere that is very different from Earth's. The prominent Giant Red Spot, a swirling anti-cyclonic storm larger than Earth, appears to be a permanent fixture of the planet's atmosphere, and has been remarkably stable for decades. Now the Great Red Spot has shrunk to its smallest size ever measured. According to Amy Simon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, recent NASA Hubble Space Telescope observations confirm the Great Red Spot now is approximately 10,250 miles across, less than half the size of some historical measurements. Astronomers have followed this downsizing since the 1930s.

The Melting Arctic

As the Eastern US ends what seems to have been the most severe winter in memory, it is hard to remember that the global climate is still warming. A severe winter in a region doesn't mean that the entire hemisphere had an extreme winter. And it really doesn't imply much about long term trends. A key indicator of long term trends is the length of the Arctic melt season. A new study by researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA shows that the length of the melt season for Arctic sea ice is growing by several days each decade. An earlier start to the melt season is allowing the Arctic Ocean to absorb enough additional solar radiation in some places to melt as much as four feet of the Arctic ice cap’s thickness. "The Arctic is warming and this is causing the melt season to last longer," said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at NSIDC, Boulder and lead author of the new study, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. "The lengthening of the melt season is allowing for more of the sun’s energy to get stored in the ocean and increase ice melt during the summer, overall weakening the sea ice cover."

Building muscle DOES help you live longer!

It has long been said by fitness trainers that building and maintaining muscle mass is important to vitality, stamina, and weight control as we age. But does it also contribute to longevity? Apparently it does! New UCLA research suggests that the more muscle mass older Americans have, the less likely they are to die prematurely. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition — and not the widely used body mass index, or BMI — is a better predictor of all-cause mortality. The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, is the culmination of previous UCLA research led by Dr. Preethi Srikanthan, an assistant clinical professor in the endocrinology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, that found that building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk.

Predicting the Climate of the future

Climate scientists rely on models to predict how the weather and climate will respond to changes in variable such as CO2 emissions, natural methane emissions, solar intensity and a host of other factors. No individual model can claim to accurately predict future climate. So it is very important to look at multiple models and compare their predictions. The Carnegie Institution for Science is a leader in this area. The pace of global warming over the last century has been about twice as rapid over land than over the oceans and will continue to be more dramatic going forward if emissions are not curbed. According to an analysis of 27 climate models by Carnegie's Chris Field, if we continue along the current emissions trajectory, we are likely facing the most rapid large climate change in the last 65 million years. This will clearly pose great challenges for a variety of terrestrial ecosystems.

Update on the El Toro contamination clean up

The federal Superfund program seems to go on forever for many sites. So it is good news that a large portion of the contamination at the former EL Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, CA has been deemed remediated enough to be removed from the Superfund list. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week deleted more than 1,900 acres of the site from the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. Hazardous wastes at this major portion of the site were cleaned up through activities that included soil sampling and excavation. To date, the Navy has spent approximately $165 million on the cleanup, and anticipates that the remaining work will cost an additional $50 million. "This milestone is what the Superfund program is all about—ensuring land is free of contamination so it can be put back into use," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "The creation of greenspace and sports facilities at the El Toro site will benefit the more than 3 million residents living in Orange County."