Daily Archives: September 15, 2011

Japan Nuclear Disaster: Update # 35

It has been Just over six months since a magnitude 9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In the hours following that incident, nuclear power protagonists filled the blogosphere, the news outlets, and other media with assurances that little could go wrong, that the reactors would be managed, that the disaster would demonstrate, once things had settled down, that nuclear power was, indeed, safe.

One of the first things Ana and I noticed, and we were not alone, is that some of the same stories … in some cases the same exact wording … was showing up in various places, as though planted by apologists for the nuclear power industry. But more worrying than that may have been the naivete of many who were seemingly very trusting of the nuclear power industry than they probably should have been, quite innocently. And, it was becoming increasingly clear that many members of the skeptics community had become convinced over the last several years that anti-nuclear sentiment was irrational, and that somehow this translated into a blind trust for the nuclear power industry being the most rational course. Today, six months after the earthquake, we know that three of the plants fully melted down. We have a rough estimate of how much nuclear material was released from a point in time a few days after the accident to the present, but for the first few days, the estimates are very poor and the amount being released was probably very high, because that is when the meltdowns were occurring. And, there is reason to believe that most of the radioactive material released from this plant was released (and is still being released) into the sea, pretty much uncounted.

The following is a non-comprehensive timeline of some of the events over the first several days of the disaster mixed in with selected comments on this blog, mostly just the very few updates in this series or related posts.
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NASA’s Big News: Star Trek Like Solar System

The existence of a world with a double sunset, as portrayed in the film Star Wars more than 30 years ago, is now scientific fact. NASA’s Kepler mission has made the first unambiguous detection of a circumbinary planet — a planet orbiting two stars — 200 light-years from Earth.

Unlike Star Wars’ Tatooine, the planet is cold, gaseous and not thought to harbor life, but its discovery demonstrates the diversity of planets in our galaxy. Previous research has hinted at the existence of circumbinary planets, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Kepler detected such a planet, known as Kepler-16b, by observing transits, where the brightness of a parent star dims from the planet crossing in front of it.

“This discovery confirms a new class of planetary systems that could harbor life,” Kepler Principal Investigator William Borucki, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said. “Given that most stars in our galaxy are part of a binary system, this means the opportunities for life are much broader than if planets form only around single stars. This milestone discovery confirms a theory that scientists have had for decades but could not prove until now.”

Read the whole thing and see the pretty pictures here.

Minnesota Planetarium Society Absorbed By Bell Natural History Museum!

It has been something of a struggle over the years for the people of the Minnesota Planetarium Society. They’ve been trying to get a planetarium in Minneapolis for some time now, but for a number of reasons (not their fault) this has proved too difficult. Now there is good news. The Bell Museum, which is part of the University of Minnesota, will “absorb” the planetarium project, and eventually, there may very well be a dome that will replicate the night sky in Minnesota. I spoke with Nathan Laible, the Board Chair of the widely respected Minnesota Planetarium Society about the Planetarium Project, its rocky history, and it’s very exciting future.
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A Very Cool Ancient Crocodile

ResearchBlogging.orgI have never actually seen a snake eat a crocodile or a crocodile eat a snake, but I am pretty sure I’ve seen a snake planning to eat a Nile Croc. And that was in the geological present.

In the geological past, about 60 million years ago (during the “Eocene” a.k.a. “dawn age”) there was a rain forest that is sort of the ancestor to modern rain forests, which is now a coal deposit (and thus, eventually, will be part of our air) in Columbia. It has yielded interesting materials, and the latest report, just published, is of a fossil dyrosaurid crocodyliform (ancient croc ancestor). It is African.
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For Teachers and About Teachers (and Penguins)

My latest contribution to 10,000 Birds blog is a write up of some very interesting research that addresses the evolutionary history of the Penguin Tuxedo. Check it out. This post also has a handy-dandy downloadable PDF version of itself suitable for use in the classoom.

Also, if you haven’t read this yet, please check it out: Could you sustain the energy level required to be a teacher?