Water runs uphill, astronomers time a day on Saturn and Mikhail Gorbachev encourages investment in solar power.

You Say You Want a Revolution Time

Astronomers have finally pinpointed exactly how long a day is on Saturn. NASA has had difficulty measuring the rotation speed of gaseous planets like Saturn because they don’t have a solid surface to track and these planets’ periods can vary slightly between revolutions. Scientists solved the mystery by using the Cassini space probe’s magnetometer to identify a clear period in the Saturnian magnetic field.

The proposed 2007 NASA budget will cut far too many important programs and leave scientific progress in America high and dry, says a report released on Thursday by the National Research Council. The authors of the report say the budget cuts, combined with commitments to complete the International Space Station and send astronauts back to the moon, will diminish the United States’ leadership in scientific research. The report was requested by Congress and written by a panel of independent scientists. (Read more about this story here.)

NASA is seeking to launch a scholarship and mentoring program with minority-centered colleges and non-profit organizations. The project, Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology, will offer internships and scholarship money to encourage minority students to enter science-focused academic programs and, eventually, the science and technology workforce.

The first woman to pilot and command a space shuttle, 40-year-old astronaut Discovery in 1995. That flight was one of four in her career.


Big Surprise: The Globe is Warming

A US government report has found clear evidence of anthropogenic climate change over the last 50 years. The authors also note increased temperatures in the lower atmosphere as well as on Earth’s surface. But more research is needed to fully understand the warming, they say, and the report includes recommendations for further study.

Greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise last year, according to a new report from NOAA. While ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons declined and methane emissions stabilized, the amount of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide pumped into the planet’s atmosphere increased. Overall, the agency’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, a measure of how greenhouse gases are forcing climate change, rose by 1.25% in 2005.

Glaciers in western China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau are melting at a rate of 7% annually, according to data from weather stations taken over the last 40 years. Average temperatures in Tibet have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s, and warming is increasing the number of deserts and sandstorms in China. The Chinese government has launched a plan to regain arable land by planting hardy shrubs on 30% of the country’s desert land.


The Misadventures of Water

Physicists have made water run uphill. To accomplish this feat, researchers boiled a water droplet on a heated metal surface. This produced steam that levitated the water so it could flow up the steps on a serrated metal sheet. The steam provided a conduit to move the droplet forward, and the researchers say this levitated water can climb the steps at a speed of up to five centimeters (two inches) per second. A similar process could be used to propel cooling liquid through hot computer microchips.

The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, has announced his new disaster strategy just in time for hurricane season: Instead of using large buildings as shelters, the way the city attempted to utilize the Superdome stadium and the convention center during last August’s storms, the city government will focus on evacuating all residents on public transport. Last summer’s hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,300 Gulf Coast residents and largely depopulated New Orleans.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) added polar bears and hippos to their list of threatened species that are at risk from global climate change. The agency also announced that the list of threatened plants and animals has, for the first time, exceeded 16,000 species. “The 2006 IUCN Red List shows a clear trend: biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,” said the director general of the World Conservation Union, Achim Steiner.


The World Battles the Energy Crisis
A coalition of 10 states has sued the federal government in an attempt to get the Bush Administration to tighten gas mileage requirements for SUVs and pickups. The Administration recently proposed regulations that would force manufacturers to raise average mileage of SUVs and light trucks to 24 mpg by 2011. Environmentalists say that’s not enough; the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers declined to comment. 

A congressional report released last Tuesday predicts that the income from drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would total about $11 billion. This drilling would reap10.3 billion barrels of crude oil over a 30-year period. The Bush administration and Senate Republicans want to open 1.5 million acres of the 19 million acre refuge to drilling, while environmental groups argue that the amount of oil present in the park does not justify the ecological damage drilling would cause. The US currently uses 20 million barrels of oil per day, 60% of which is imported.

In a statement marking the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev called on leaders of the G8 industrialized nations to put their collective weight behind solar power, rather than oil and nuclear technologies. Gorbachev, who led his country’s response to the Chernobyl meltdown, urged G8 countries to establish a $50 billion fund to support solar energy use. Gorbachev currently chairs Green Cross International, an environmental think tank.

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Originally published May 5, 2006

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