Some of the solar systems most amazing sights may be… temporary. Mind you “temporary” in cosmological terms may mean hundreds of millions of years. Excerpt:
Ever since Copernicus evicted Earth from its privileged spot at the centre of the Solar System, researchers have embraced the idea that there is nothing special about our time and place in the Universe. What observers see now, they presume, has been going on for billions of years — and will continue for eons to come.
But observations of the distant reaches of the Solar System made in the past few years are challenging that concept. The most active bodies out there — Jupiter’s moon Io and Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan — may be putting on limited-run shows that humans are lucky to witness. Saturn’s brilliant rings, too, might have appeared relatively recently, and could grow dingy over time. Some such proposals make planetary researchers uncomfortable, because it is statistically unlikely that humans would catch any one object engaged in unusual activity — let alone several.
The proposals also go against the grain of one of geology’s founding principles: uniformitarianism, which states that planets are shaped by gradual, ongoing processes. “Geologists like things to be the same as they ever were,” says Jeff Moore, a planetary scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The unchanging world is “philosophically comforting because you don’t have to assume you’re living in special times”, he says.
Of course, there’s another way to look at this.
Things change, on Earth and in space. Maybe in a hundred million years Saturn’s rings will be darkened beyond easy visibility, but who knows what other wonders will arise through some unknown astronomical accident?
Oh, and now they can weigh black holes. Who knew?
From space to Earth: America’s Nuclear Future. Excerpt:
When it comes to nuclear energy, Dr. Burton Richter is Mr. Credible. Winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for discovering a new sub-atomic particle, Richter has advised presidents and policymakers for almost 40 years. Richter has been a Breakthrough Senior Fellow since 2011, and is technical adviser to the forthcoming documentary, “Pandora’s Promise,” about pro-nuclear environmentalists.
Breakthrough interviewed Richter recently to get his opinion on next generation nuclear reactors, and why so many of them are being developed abroad and not by the Department of Energy in the United States. “The DOE is too screwed up to go into a partnership and do this in the US,” the blunt Richter told us, referring to the Bill Gates-backed nuclear design pursued in China by Terrapower.
Is DOE really to blame? In the end, Richter told us it was partisan polarization that was the problem. “George W. Bush actually had a good thing on next generation nuclear,” Richter said. “When the Obama people came in all the Gen IV activities were stopped. With a system that keeps changing its priorities every few years, the [National DOE] Labs are pretty demoralized. The French have a long-term plan. The Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians have it. We don’t have it. That’s not the fault of the labs, that’s the fault of the administrations.”
America’s energy future has to include nuclear power. If we are serious about wanting to wean ourselves from coal and gas-fired electrical generation, then nuclear power has to be part of the equation. No other alternative is as reliable, as cheap or as versatile. And new breakthroughs in reactor technology make them safer than ever.
Another advantage: Decentralization of power sources. Small reactors can not only bring reliable, reasonably priced power to remote locations, they can also ease some pressure on America’s antiquated power grid by generating power at many small locations instead of a few big ones. Incidentally, that also has the advantage of largely proofing the power grid against terrorist attack.
It’s long past time to get with the nuclear program.