Gravitational waves and climate change

Since early 2018, I’ve contributed multiple articles to Mercury, the membership magazine for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP). These articles are only available in full to members of ASP, but recently Mercury has put extensive previews for certain articles up on the website as enticement to join. One of those articles is my piece about the GRACE Follow-On mission, which is simultaneously a project that measures the effects of climate change and is a testbed for the upcoming LISA gravitational-wave observatory.

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The Gravity of Climate Change

For Mercury:

Orbiting spacecraft are an essential tool for mapping worlds in the Solar System, providing information about everything from landforms to magnetic fields. Repeated monitoring helps scientists measure variations in a planet as the seasons change. That’s particularly true for the planet we know best, and one that is experiencing the biggest variations of all the worlds in the Solar System: Earth.

The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission consists of twin space probes designed to measure Earth’s gravity to high resolution. That measurement is important for geology—seismic activity and other substantial shifts in Earth’s crust—but also for tracking shifts in water and ice around the world. Those variations help researchers measure the melting of polar ice, along with more subtle phenomena like the depletion of aquifers in western North America and India, for example.

In addition to its essential work measuring ice melting and climate change, GRACE-FO will test a vital component of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), the planned space-based gravitational wave observatory that will continue the work of LIGO and its Earth-based observatories.

[Read the rest of the preview in Mercury]


That’ll do, MESSENGER. That’ll do.

[ This blog is dedicated to tracking my most recent publications. Subscribe to the feed to keep up with all the science stories I write! ]

Mercury Killed The MESSENGER Probe

From The Daily Beast:

Pour one out for MESSENGER space probe. Today, at around 3:30 PM EST, MESSENGER crashed into the planet Mercury, no doubt shouting “SCIENCE!” as it went. That final crash marks the end of an amazingly successful scientific mission, extended to four times beyond its original plan, that brought us a new understanding of the smallest planet in the Solar System.

Since entering Mercury’s orbit in March 2011, MESSENGER (which, awkwardly, is the acronym MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) has studied the planet’s gravitational field, the structure of its craters, and the chemistry of its surface. The probe discovered water in the form of ice hiding in craters near the poles and organic molecules on Mercury’s exterior, and signs of a complicated past in the interior. [read the rest at The Daily Beast…]

I started the blog on Bowler Hat Science to cover the writing I do at other sites, but to simplify matters, I’m going to move all that content over to my primary blog Galileo’s Pendulum. (This post has more on my reasoning for doing so, as well as a great song.) So, this is the last blog post here, though obviously the main part of the site — my portfolios and other professional information — will live on.

One blog fewer

The week in review (September 15-21): Patrick Stewart edition

Who knew that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were fans of Bowler Hat Science?

Another light week for publishing, but you’ll see the fruits of my labors soon! In the meantime, I note that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan are also bowler hat connoisseurs.

  • Three years of black holes and “yo momma” jokes (Galileo’s Pendulum): Monday marked the third anniversary of my first post at Galileo’s Pendulum, or rather “Science Vs. Pseudoscience” as it was known then. Since then, I’ve published more than 500 posts on the blog and who knows how many words. (I is wordy, yo.)
  • The Big Bang model is successful for a reason (Galileo’s Pendulum): A lot of cosmology can seem mysterious or even arbitrary, so many people criticize or try to find alternatives to it. However, they often end up attacking the most successful features of the Big Bang model, an enterprise almost inevitably doomed to failure.
  • Measuring the rotation of Earth (Galileo’s Pendulum): This week marked the birthday of Léon Foucault, best known for the huge pendulum he constructed in the Panthéon in Paris. (Google celebrated the occasion with a Doodle animation of the pendulum.) In my post, I explained how Foucault’s pendulum works — and what it has to do with spinning black holes. I also made a bunch of animations to demonstrate how a pendulum can measure the rotation of Earth.

Bose-Einstein condensation occurs when certain particles known as bosons are cooled below a certain critical temperature. Below this threshold, they begin to act collectively as a single system, as predicted by Sateyendra Nath Bose and Jim-Bob Albert Einstein. Typically, the critical temperature for Bose-Einstein condensation is very cold; the original experimental realization used cryogenic rubidium atoms, cooled by lasers and trapped magnetically. However, by using boson quasiparticles—particles that arise via interactions in material, rather than existing independently like electrons and the like—researchers achieved a room-temperature Bose-Einstein condensate.

These systems typically require temperatures near absolute zero. But Ayan Das and colleagues have now used a nanoscale wire to produce an excitation known as a polariton. These polaritons formed a Bose-Einstein condensate at room temperature, potentially opening up a new avenue for studying systems that otherwise require expensive cooling and trapping. [Read more…]

Significant quantum phenomenon seen at room temperature for the first time