Let’s Visit The Center Of The Earth

Hearth_5.aiWhat do you know about the Earth’s core? Probably nothing.

Don’t feel bad. Most people know little about what’s going on deep under our feet. There’s a new study published in Nature which says our core is rotating at a different speed than the rest of Earth. It’s variable. Sometimes a little faster, sometimes slower.

Like I said, most of us know nothing about the center of the Earth.

It’s hot there. Really hot.

From phys.org: The Earth’s core consists mainly of a sphere of liquid iron at temperatures above 4000 degrees and pressures of more than 1.3 million atmospheres.

I’ll do the math. That’s around 7,200&#176 Fahrenheit. Have I mentioned it’s hot!

The very center of the core is so hot and under so much pressure the iron turns solid again. Of course this is all theory. We’ve never explored the Earth’s core even though it’s closer than Hawaii, about 4,000 miles straight down.

Earth’s my subject because there’s been lots of talk lately about sending men to the Moon and Mars. Why don’t we explore the Earth instead?

We wouldn’t send men to Earth’s core, but we should find ways of tapping this incredible and practically limitless supply of heat and energy. I have heard how difficult it would be, requiring engineering skill and techniques far beyond anything we possess today.

Could it be more difficult than sending men to Mars?

How Much Money Can A Smart Electric Grid Save?

Mr. DELUREY: Something that most people are surprised to hear is that 10 to 20 percent of the overall electricity costs in the U.S. come from the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

I had “All Things Considered” on the car radio this evening as I made a quick trip to Hamden. The distinctly piped Robert Siegel was interviewing Dan Delurey, president of the Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition. They are an organization which promotes “Smart Grid” technology for power companies.

I know what he’s selling so the interview was pedestrian until this exchange.

Mr. DELUREY: Something that most people are surprised to hear is that 10 to 20 percent of the overall electricity costs in the U.S. come from the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

SIEGEL: I want you to repeat that number because it’s astonishing. The top 100 hours of the year for demand of electricity account for 10 to 20 percent…

Mr. DELUREY: That’s correct.

SIEGEL: …of the cost of providing electricity.

Mr. DELUREY: That’s correct.

And, of course, that’s the real weakness of a public utility. You have to build for peak demand even if average demand is much, much lower and large portions of your capacity will be unused most of the time.

If there’s 10-20% of low hanging fruit savings I’d probably participate… if I shared the savings. Some companies aren’t good at sharing. We’ll see.

I’ve been talking a lot about alternate power generation recently. People bring it up in conversation all the time. BP has gotten us all pissed at oil. Oil needs some tough love.

I’m suspicious of solar power and wind energy. Neither is dependable enough nor are the solar cells and windmills efficient enough. On top of that it’s tough to store excess electricity to use when the wind isn’t blowing or the Sun’s not shining.

I favor wind/wave action. I’m no engineer, but the slow progress here has got to be a consequence of the difficulty… not that getting oil in the Gulf is so easy!

The advantage of turbines spun by currents or generators driven by wave action is they’re very dependable. The motion to power them is quite plentiful and free.

You would think building offshore removes most of the NIMBY problems. It doesn’t. Otherwise green residents are up in arms against the wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Still, it’s got to be easier than building on land.

Imagine tapping into the Gulf Stream or the ocean swells a few miles out. These are inexhaustible sources of power and they add no pollution.

Until that day 10-20% savings by letting someone else control my thermostat seems worth considering.

The Thirty Foot Asteroid That Headed Toward Earth Unnoticed!

No one saw this bad boy coming. Not NASA. Not the Air Force. Surprise! It was the size of a small house and we had no warning at all.

bolide3.jpgSpace is a dirty place. There’s all sorts of interstellar junk flying around at breakneck speed. In our solar system Jupiter, the largest planet with the strongest gravity, gets hit most often.

Still, in terms relative to the age of our planet, the Earth gets hit all the time. Just the random dust and specks burning out in the upper reaches of our atmosphere add a few hundred million pounds of additional mass to Earth every day!

Sometimes the incoming rocks are large.

We don’t see much evidence because water and weather gradually heal our wounds. The pock marked surface of the atmosphere free Moon gives a more realistic impression of what really happens.

I mention this because a reasonably significant rock came pretty close to hitting the Earth a few weeks ago. I’m only hearing about it now–and I’m usually pretty up on these things.

Here’s NASA’s dispassionate reporting:

On October 8, 2009 about 03:00 Greenwich time, an atmospheric fireball blast was observed and recorded over an island region of Indonesia. The blast is thought to be due to the atmospheric entry of a small asteroid about 10 meters in diameter that, due to atmospheric pressure, detonated in the atmosphere with an energy of about 50 kilotons (the equivalent of 100,000 pounds of TNT explosives).

The Jakarta Globe said the explosion was loud enough that, “Locals at first thought it was an earthquake and ran out of their homes in panic.”

Well, yeah. A hundred thousand pounds of TNT would make quite a rumble.

No one saw this bad boy coming. Not NASA. Not the Air Force. Surprise! It was the size of a small house and we had no warning at all.

What little we do know of this incident comes because we monitor atmospheric noise while searching for nuclear tests. Again, it’s a surprise to me, but there is a network of “infrasound stations” associated with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and they pinned it down.

In writing about this incident NASA scientists mention “an average impact velocity for NEAs of 20.3 km/s.” In other words, near Earth asteroids hit the Earth’s atmosphere at around 45,000 mph! That’s New York to Los Angeles in under four minutes!

Bottom line, those scary movies where asteroids plunge to Earth causing death and destruction… maybe they’re more science and less fiction than we think.

Economics And Oil

As I write this, a little after 2:00 AM, I am concerned… no, I’m petrified the U.S. financial markets will follow the rest of the world and plummet at today’s opening.

The global economy is totally interconnected. International markets fell Monday, while our stock exchange was closed. They’re falling again right now. The Dow could be down multiple hundreds of points right at the opening.

A full fledged crash is certainly possible, though I’d rather not think about it.

That’s really not what I wanted to write about, but since this will be about the international economy and oil, I thought I should acknowledge what’s going on.

Yesterday, I saw a story (in many places) about Israel’s commitment to build an electric car. Here in the states a fully electric vehicle will be out from GM in just a few years. These are fully electric cars, not hybrids.

It makes a lot of sense, because at $100 a barrel, alternative fuels become competitive with oil. Except, $100 a barrel is a totally artificial price.

Yes, there’s some supply and demand at work, but oil’s price is steered by a cartel. They control the supply to control the demand to control the price.

OPEC is not a monolith. The oil producing nations aren’t exactly in lock step. They’re close enough.

That being said, the actual cost to produce a barrel of oil is a lot less than the selling price. What it costs differs by location, but here’s what the Energy Information Administration, a US government agency, says.

In 2006, average production costs (or “lifting” costs, the cost to bring a barrel of oil to the surface) ranged from about $4 per barrel (excluding taxes) in Africa to about $8.30 per barrel in Canada; the average for the U.S. was $6.83/barrel (an increase of 23% over the $5.56/barrel cost in 2005). Besides the direct costs associated with removing the oil from the ground, substantial costs are incurred to explore for and develop oil fields (called “finding” costs), and these also vary substantially by region. Averaged over 2004, 2005 and 2006, finding costs ranged from about $5.26/barrel in the Middle East1 to $63.71/barrel for U.S. offshore.

Forget the $63.71 figure, because it represents a small portion of what’s being produced. By and large, most of the world’s oil is found and removed at $10-$20 per barrel. Obviously, the oil exporting nations are getting rich and their selling price has little to do with their actual cost.

However, in the face of competition from alternative energy (think electric cars) they can and will reevaluate their price, settling for less in the short run to guarantee a continuing market for their products.

Oil exporters don’t want coal, solar, nuclear, or whatever else can be thought up, to kill their business. That leaves us with tough decisions.

Do we want energy independence and, if so, at what cost?

My feeling is, we need to be independent and must be willing to make short term economic sacrifices to establish an energy beachhead. In the long term, an economically weakened OPEC, which can no longer run roughshod over energy prices, is in our best interest.

It won’t be easy. At some point, whether through consumer persistence or governmental subsidy, we’re going to have to endure short term pain in order to free ourselves. OPEC will do their best to temp us by cutting their prices. And, as has always been the case, more oil will be found to quench the world’s growing thirst.

Will we continue to look to alternatives if oil returns to a ‘reasonable’ price? There’s certainly lots of fudge factor in what they’re getting now.

I hope we can resist their temptation.

Sydney In Repose

Sydney the beagle lying down next to StefanieI went to search out Sydney for her daily beauty shot. I found her, but not in any of her normal spots.

Sydney was upstairs, behind closed doors, in Steffie’s playroom. They were both laying on the floor.

Sydney was on her mattress. Steffie was on the floor. Who is smarter?

Here’s the difference between Sydney and Ivy. Ivy would have been attentively watching TV with Steffie. Sydney, on the other hand, turned tail.

Since she arrived, Sydney has not barked. Not once. Maybe she’s capable, or possibly she knows it would expend too much energy?

This is not to say Sydney has been quiet. Yesterday, while napping in the family room, Sydney spent 15 minutes making a soft, low, deep murmuring sound – like a sea lion.

Helaine says Sydney snores&#185 too. I’ve yet to hear that.

Dogs don’t need a practical use to be an important part of a family. It is difficult to believe anyone could start a fight, or a war, with a dog like Sydney curled up next to them. She is a calming influence, even though she does nothing!

I’m not ready for the full time responsibility that comes with a dog. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t say having Sydney here has been good in every possible way.

&#185 – Helaine also says I snore. Obviously, that’s a figment of her imagination, as I would never snore.

Who Is Controlling The Weather?

Here’s a comment that was left earlier to another entry. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten something like this, and we all get these forwarded to us, I might as well add my two cents.

On an unrelated (weather subject), I heard reference to this site, on the George Norney (Coast to Coast AM radio program). The person being interviewed, Richard Hoagland, contended that “someone” is trying to minimize the potential impact of hurricane Wilma. The link shows, to a non weather guy, a unique bright red band of storms. Hoagland contends that is evidence that “someone” is artificially trying to sap the energy of Wilma, before it might become a cat 5!

Geoff –Any comments?

This kind of electronic noise often appears on imagery. Part of my ‘real’ job is to look for this stuff and not show it, because it’s misleading.

Here’s what the website that hosts these images says:

The individual images that are used as input into this product sometimes contain bad data in the form of missing scanlines or anamalously high or low values that often stretch in an arc across the image. When these areas are incorporated into the MIMIC product they form artifacts that fade in and out, and appear to move with the storm center. However, they have no physical meaning and hopefully they will not obstruct your interpretation of the imagery.

Before you listen to anyone who says we can control the weather, understand the power of these storms. When a hurricane stretches over hundreds of miles and reaches up vertically through the atmosphere, that’s a lot mass being dragged around.

Clouds look pretty and seem weightless to us on the ground, but they are real physical objects with real mass. There is nothing we have… probably nothing we can conceive of at the moment, that has the power to affect something this immense.

There will always be people with off center ideas who are willing to exploit the unknown by assigning meanings to meaningless observations. In other words, they’re full of crap.