Well this blog post has me at the airport flying to Las Cruces, NM, for the AAVSO (https://www.aavso.org/) annual meeting and tours of the Apache Point Observatory. So, no observing to report, but I do hope to get some pictures of the Milky Way in the darker skies in New Mexico. More about the meeting later, but first let's review some other activities.
First up, I received this Tweet from Julian Astronomer, Douglas, which demonstrated that not all Twitter feeds are angry. Here we see an illustration of the planets in our solar system and I'm pretty sure this never showed up in your astronomy textbook. Yep, that is pretty funny. Thanks for that, Doug!
|The flat planet, Earth, and the rest of the solar system (Source: Twitter feed from Doug)|
So, have you been working through the videos of the Global Warming course by Professor David Archer, U. of Chicago, that we mentioned in the October 1, 2019 blog post? We are now into week two and we worked our way through the first simple model used to calculate the temperature of a planet. As you know, it starts off with just a heat balance equation where the sum of energy into the planet will equal the sum of energy leaving the planet will determine the temperature of the planet.
The key point is that incoming energy in the form of radiation from the sun, which is a high temperature source, something like 6000 K, and the radiation that leaves the Earth is generated at much lower temperature. The equations for this simple example are shown below and in this starting problem include the reflection by a simple cloud model and then relies on blackbody physics to calculate the energy leaving the Earth.
The first model is just simple heat balance equation assuming blackbody physics. The second model includes some greenhouse warming as indicated by the model on the righthand side.
|Professor Archer shows you can calculate a planet's temperature using heat balance (Source: www.coursera.org)|
This simple first order model is used to estimate the temperature of three solar system planets. The prior calculations included the size of the planets and the distances from the sun with estimates of the albedo, which is the estimate of the amount of reflected sunlight. When the calculated temperatures are compared to known temperatures of the these three planets we can see that there is a large difference for Venus and similar, colder, but not accurate, values for the Earth and Mars
|Professor Archer shows planet temperature with first order greenhouse calculation (Source: www.coursera.org)|
We know from our review of new power generation technologies that moving away from carbon based fuels to more carbon-neutral fuels, renewables and some mix of nuclear power seems a doable solution. Safer nuclear power generation is an ongoing research program. Existing plants are relatively safe, but as we have seen when something goes wrong there is a risk of spreading radioactive material from the disabled plants. So, the new research is directed towards designing and building new types of plants that cannot melt down, not just that the meltdown is unlikely, but that meltdown cannot physically happen because the reactor design does not require an uninterruptible source of cooling water. That will be pretty cool if it can be developed.
One example of a company, that I know of, is TerraPower, which is a very innovative nuclear power company, with Bill Gates as founder and chairman of the board. The company was founded in 2006 and is doing the engineering develop and new, safe nuclear power plants and is seeking required licenses to build the first power plant of this type.
There is a great set of documentary videos about Bill Gates and how he uses the same dedication to success he used in building Microsoft and they have extensive interviews which really let you in on "Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates", which is available on Netflix. Bill is still very innovative and I am beginning to follow his activities as well as two other innovative billionaires: Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Check them out and check out this documentary series on Bill!
|Getting into Bill's brain documentary series (Source: Netflix)|
You can see more details about Terrapower's innovative approach to nuclear power which is safe and impossible to meltdown and uses old spent nuclear fuel, not enriched uranium, at their website: www.terrapower.com
Two designs that I saw on their website are shown below. The features of these innovative designs look very promising so if the remaining engineering work can be done and if the permitting process confirms that the designs are safe, then we might have a very green power source and a very safe power source. Time will tell!
|New innovations in nuclear power are safer and use spent fuel (Source: www.terrapower.com)|
So, these new reactor designs will make nuclear fission power much safer and help use up spent fuel, rather than just storing it. In addition, there is a lot of ongoing work in fusion power research as well. We have the gigantic research projects, like ITER, which are billion dollar collaborations, which are still years away from practical power generation. At the same time, more small scale fusion power research is going on all around us. One example that I am familiar with is TAE (Tri-alpha Energy) which is a fusion research company here in Orange County. I wanted to join their team doing high pulsed power electronics but decided to retire and be a full time physicist wannabe instead. In the photo below you can see some TAE team members with "Norman", a large fusion flux reversed configuration test setup. The moniker is based on the early research findings and support of the late UCI Professor and TAE founder, Norman Rostoker.
|Research into fusion power draws in small companies (Source: www.tae.com)|
Finally, as long as we are talking about future events, we should report on a suggestion from Air Force Veteran, Vince, who, after hearing of our upcoming 2020 cruise that includes a stop in Transylvania, that we should take with us, in addition to wooden stakes, so garlic, or better yet, garlic stuffed olives, for our martinis. Ok, ok , I don't really believe there is much evidece for vampires, but just to be sure we will go prepared. I normally don't use olives in my Vodka martinis, but if the need for protection comes up, I can add them quickly. Thanks for thinking of us, Vince!
|The label doesn't describe protection from vampires, but works in martinis (Source: Napa Valley Bistro as on Amazon.com)|
Until next time,
Resident Astronomer George
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