Daily Archives: June 7, 2013

I’m sure you remember cold fusion, but do you remember gamma ray producing clouds?

Cold Fusion was first reported in 1989. The original experiment was supposed to have produced extra heat that could not be explained wiht chemistry or electronics, so naturally, fusion was considered. Contrary to popular belief, that original experiment has been replicated successfully. The problem isn’t that the first experiment produced actual extra heat and no one doing the same experiment could match that result. Rather, none of the attempts at using this experimental set up worked, including the first one. So, yes, the experiment was successfully replicated, and in all cases, nothing happened.

ResearchBlogging.org The bits and pieces that would have been relevant to cold fusion had it existed have been used and reused in a small, but global, cottage industry of cold fusion experimenters, since the original experiment and continuing to today. Very little cold fusion work since the first Fleischmann–Pons experiments has followed those original protocols, and in fact, they are quite different experiments, often looking for very different things. It is a little like this: Someone claims that Bigfoot lives in a certain forest. So, lots of people show up to find Bigfoot. Over a period of a year or so everyone realizes that the Bigfoot claim was bogus. But, there are still people looking in the forest, and some of them come back with blurry pictures of what they claim is Chupacabra. Someone else finds that the lake in the forest has mermaids, but again, the photos are blurry. And so on.

I’m mostly glad they have been doing this research though. The possibility of a “nuclear” kind of thing happening with basic chemistry is too important to totally write off just because, well, there is no evidence for it. As long as a) the total budget for this research stays below 0.00001% of the total physics and chemistry research budget for the world, and b) after a while we just stop looking if nothing is found, then that’s OK.


Unfortunately, while condition A has been met, condition B has not. They should probably stop now.

Anyway here’s an interesting story. I remember when Cold Fusion was a thing, and I remember how stridently the anti-cold fusion masses swarmed Pons and Flieishman and how unequivocally they were driven into the swamp. The whole idea of stuff that can only happen in a nuclear reactor or inside a star being done in a test tube was outrageous! We’ve finally gotten over that; we now know that tiny theoretical black holes are forming all the time in the upper atmosphere because of cosmic rays running into our earthly molecules, for example. (And people probably knew that back then. If it is true.) The point is, if someone came along within a short time after the initial unveiling and rapid beheading of Cold Fusion with anything that looked even a little like nuclear physics happening in a setting where chemists (or any other scientists) operate, stern looks ensued.

So, in 1991, when the open festering wound of cold fusion was just starting to scar over, an interesting observation was made. Previously, it had been noticed by spy planes, astronauts, etc. (people who were really really high) that blue streaks or flashes would sometimes come flying out of the tops of the larger thunder heads. In 1991 someone flying over a storm system with a gamma ray detector picked up gamma rays flying out of the clouds. As I remember this, it was in association with blue flashes. I also remember the observation being treated gingerly. Reactions from “Oh, interesting, someone should look at that maybe” to “Well, obviously you can’t get gamma rays from lightning, that’s impossible, but well, whatever, cold fusion ugh” were to be found at that time.

Since then, slowly but surely, the gamma ray bursts have been observed and confirmed and it is real. It turns out that this happens because a particularly energetic bit of lightning totally wastes some atoms and gamma rays come flying out (upwards, mainly). Indeed, if Pons and Fleishman had produced a small amount of extra heat after ablating some matter with a giant laser, that may have been believable. (but it would not have been cold, so who cares?) These gamma rays, coming out of the clouds, are not cold fusion. They are high energy reactions to high energy actions.

Anyway, there is some new research on the gamma rays that you might be interested in. Here’s the abstract:

We present the very first simultaneous detection from space of a terrestrial gamma ray flash (TGF) and the optical signal from lightning. By fortuitous coincidence, two independent satellites passed less than 300 km from the thunderstorm system that produced a TGF that lasted 70? ?s. Together with two independent measurements of radio emissions, we have an unprecedented coverage of the event. We find that the TGF was produced deep in the thundercloud at the initial stage of an intracloud (IC) lightning before the leader reached the cloud top and extended horizontally. A strong radio pulse was produced by the TGF itself. This is the first time the sequence of radio pulses, TGF, and optical emissions in an IC lightning flash has been identified.

The important finding here is that the lightning bolt that makes the gamma ray is ginormous and propagates from a very low altitude compared to what they were previously assuming.

There is also a write-up that I think is not behind a paywall HERE.

First thought to be generated at high altitudes, researchers have recently pinned down the origin of the fleeting lightning-linked bursts—one of the most energetic surges of natural electromagnetic radiation on Earth—to altitudes below 20 kilometers, in the layer of the atmosphere where most weather happens.

If only we could harness this energy!

Østgaard, N., Gjesteland, T., Carlson, B., Collier, A., Cummer, S., Lu, G., & Christian, H. (2013). Simultaneous observations of optical lightning and terrestrial gamma ray flash from space Geophysical Research Letters DOI: 10.1002/grl.50466

Photo Credit: Striking Photography by Bo Insogna via Compfight cc

Weatherman Bob and the Green Screen

Weatherman Bob disappeared today. He was consumed, or maybe absorbed, by his Green Screen. A Green Screen is a screen, green in color, with special properties. A TV studio camera and the equipment it is hooked to replace the green screen with an imaginary background. So, a person who is not green can stand in front of the Green Screen and to the TV viewer it will look like the person is standing in front of something else. This is how weather reporters on TV ply their trade. They look like they are standing in front of a map of the region showing cold fronts and warm fronts and temperatures and pictures of a kitten buried in snow or a Minnesotan scooping up golf ball size hail while wearing shorts and a furry hat. And today, Weatherman Bob’s Green Screen consumed or absorbed him. It was pretty funny.

I first saw Bob about a dozen years ago when I moved to a new town. There were two weather reporters who seemed to be able to predict the weather reasonably well, on two different stations. One of them was Bob, the other one was Doug. Both of these are made up names. I remember the first time I looked at the weather in this town. I had been out driving and was caught in a severe thunderstorm, on the highway. After I got through that I was driving into town and I saw a giant spinning cloud in the sky. It was just like a tornado but horizontal and at high up. I thought, “Wow, the people in this town don’t know how lucky they are. Where I come from it is not every day you get to see something like that!”

Later I got home and turned on the TV and there was Doug the Weatherman showing a picture of the giant horizontal tornado thing. “This is something you don’t see very day!” he was saying. He gave the thing an official name which I no longer remember, and said, “This is like a giant horizontal tornado up high. They rarely ever come down to the ground but when they do it is bad news.” A minute later I changed the channel and there was Weatherman Bob giving his version of the weather. He did not mention the giant horizontal tornado, but he did say that jury was still out on global warming.

And so it went for a dozen years. If I watched Weatherman Doug he would always say something interesting and informative about the weather. He once told me to get into the basement and I did right away, though the tornado missed us by a few blocks. Every time I watched Weatherman Bob he would not say anything interesting about the weather, but he would occasionally say something snarky about global warming, about how the jury was still out.

As time went by I watched Weatherman Bob less and less and Weatherman Doug more and more. Basically, I only watched Weatherman Bob when I had to. Meanwhile, I noticed that Weatherman Doug started to show up on various other TV shows as an expert on weather and he would speak truthfully and thoughtfully about global warming. Weatherman Bob stayed on his regular TV show.

Then global weirding happened. One day a few years ago the weather got strange and it has not stopped being strange since then. The latest version of global weirding was to have Central Europe turn into a large lake where there used to be many cities and towns and a medium size river. Here in my town, we became surrounded by rain storms. There are rain storms to the north of us, rainstorms to the south of us, rainstorms to the east and to the west of us. Frequently, there are rainstorms right on top of us.

On weather radar the rain storms look like green. When the rain is more severe it looks yellow, but mostly it is just different shades of green. One of those shades of green is very much like the green of the green screen.

So today I was at the Gym on the treadmill and off in the distance there was a TV with the news. It was the station with Weatherman Bob. Right in the beginning of the news show, they went to Weatherman Bob and he was standing in front of his green screen, showing the weather radar. There was green everywhere and he was pointing to it and gesticulating. Every now and then they switched back to the news anchors and they looked concerned. Then they would go back to Weatherman Bob and he would be pointing to the green radar images all over his Green Screen, and he also looked concerned.

Then they went on to other news but in a few minutes they went back to Weatherman Bob, and this time there was even more rain shown on the radar. The whole region was covered with it almost. And he gesticulated and the anchors looked concerned. Then they went on to some other news stories.

A while later they went back to Weatherman Bob and this time the Green Screen was almost entirely green with radar-rain, and Weatherman Bob was gesticulating, but this time he seemed to be a bit green around the edges himself, almost as though the green screen was bleeding onto him and not keeping him nice and separate from the imaginary image. I don’t know what he was saying but I imagined him saying something about how this odd weather pattern was not due to global warming. Then they went on to some other news stories.

Then, at the very end of the news show, they went back to Weatherman Bob one more time. The green radar totally covered the Green Screen. Weatherman Bob gesticulated at it. His edges became even greener and suddenly everything but his face and hands disappeared into the background. They cut to the news anchors for a moment. One of them was staring towards where we assume Weatherman Bob was standing with his mouth wide open and a shocked expression on his face. The other anchor had pulled out her cell phone and was dialing 911. They both looked concerned.

When they cut back to Weatherman Bob his hands had already disappeared and his face was now just a circle with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. He was shouting something that I could not hear because I was seeing this at the Gym and I did not have a radio tuned to that TV station with me, and then his face disappeared. Later, I found this weather forecast, the last one ever made by Bob the Weatherman on YouTube and watched it again with the sound on so I could hear it.

Weatherman Bob’s last words, as he was consumed, or maybe absorbed, by his Green Screen, was “The juuuurrrryyyy … is stiilllll ooooouuuuuuutttt!!!!”

Weird, huh?

Just for fun: