BREAKING NEWS: New Study Shakes Up Science Community Over Historic Cosmic Ray Blast

This news release goes to the heart of my research. It is as if the astrophysics science community comes clean, having hinted of the seriousness charged particles can do to our solar system and of course Earth. What I have been writing about over the last five years regarding possible scenarios based on factual historic data, pertaining to galactic cosmic rays, setting aside the short-term consequences of the Sun’s 22 year cycle apropos to the expansion and contraction of solar rays such as coronal mass ejections, solar flares, coronal holes and filaments.

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In short, (encourage you to read last 5 or 6 Science of Cycles newsletters) it is galactic cosmic rays which will usher in the upcoming magnetic reversal. It is these smaller, if not smallest charged particles as measured using a electromagnetic spectrometer which cause the most harmful effects to Earth’s core and humans.

I am placing original excerpts below so you can read the words used as to their emphasis in realizing events such as supernovae’s from our galaxy Milky Way, or perhaps even greater distances from neighboring galaxies or celestial orbs can have a profound effect to our solar system and planet.

_new_equation 2012

Research recently published provided empirical evidence of two prehistoric supernovae exploding about 300 light years from Earth. Now, a follow-up investigation based on computer modeling shows those supernovae likely propagated a significant biological shift on our planet to a long-lasting gust of cosmic radiation, which also affected the atmosphere.

“I was surprised to see as much effect as there was,” said Adrian Melott, professor of physics at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the new paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a peer-reviewed express scientific journal that allows astrophysicists to rapidly publish short notices of significant original research. “I was expecting there to be very little effect at all,” he said. “The supernovae were pretty far away – more than 300 light years – that’s really not very close.”

supernovae_science_of_cycles_m

According to Melott, “The big thing turns out to be the cosmic rays. The really high-energy ones are pretty rare. The high-energy cosmic rays are the ones that can penetrate the atmosphere. They tear up molecules, they can rip electrons off atoms, and that goes on right down to the ground level. Normally that happens only at high altitude.

Melott’s collaborators on the research are Brian Thomas and Emily Engler of Washburn University, Michael Kachelrieß of the Institutt for fysikk in Norway, Andrew Overholt of MidAmerica Nazarene University and Dimitry Semikoz of the Observatoire de Paris and Moscow Engineering Physics Institute.

fauna

The boosted exposure to cosmic rays from supernovae could have had “substantial effects on the terrestrial atmosphere and fauna.” Fauna pretty much means ‘all living things’. For instance, the research suggested the supernovae might have caused a 20-fold increase in irradiation by muons at ground level on Earth.

“A muon is a cousin of the electron, a couple of hundred times heavier than the electron – they penetrate hundreds of meters of rock,” Melott said. “Normally there are lots of them hitting us on the ground. They mostly just go through us, but because of their large numbers contribute about 1/6 of our normal radiation dose. So if there were 20 times as many, you’re in the ballpark of tripling the radiation dose.”

muons

Melott said the uptick in radiation from muons would have been high enough to boost the mutation rate and frequency of cancer, but not enormously. Still, if you increased the mutation rate you might speed up evolution.

Indeed, a minor mass extinction around 2.59 million years ago may be connected in part to boosted cosmic rays that could have helped to cool Earth’s climate. The new research results show that the cosmic rays ionize the Earth’s atmosphere in the troposphere – the lowest level of the atmosphere – to a level eight times higher than normal. This would have caused an increase in cloud-to-ground lightning.

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Cosmic rays are inescapable throughout the universe. They can rip right through our atmosphere, damaging DNA and possibly causing cancer and memory loss over the long-term.

“There was climate change around this time,” Melott said. Africa dried out, and a lot of the forest turned into savannah. Around this time and afterwards, we started having glaciations – ice ages – over and over again, and it’s not clear why that started to happen. It’s controversial, but maybe cosmic rays had something to do with it.

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Breaking News: Is Earth’s Atmosphere Leaking?

A new study was released over the weekend stating Earth’s atmosphere is leaking. It is presented as if this is a new phenomena just learned and the researchers delivery paints a picture of scientists running around frantically as if they are huddled together thinking to themselves “oh shiet, we must plug the hole….”

Earth_Atmosphere_Leaking1_m

Here’s the fact: the Earth’s atmosphere has always been “leaking” – sometimes more than others. Once again, it truly is the Science of Cycles that wins the day. The question really at hand here is; what is the cause of these cyclical expansion and contraction periods? For those of you who have been following my work already know the answer. But of course there are always new people discovering ScienceOfCycles.com so I must present where my research leads us. Now I am very happy to say, it is not just my research but several other recently published papers from Universities and governmental agencies have also discovered this new awareness of cycles that extend to our galaxy Milky Way and beyond.

Our home Earth, protects us from most seriously dangerous radiation and electrical surges. It does so by creating a magnetic field which is produced through the geodynamic process of convection in the outer cores liquid iron producing currents.

sun_magnetic_field_magnetic_core

What we are witnessing today, is Earth’s natural ability to maintain its ambient rotation and orbital balance. Currently, the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, which therefore allows a greater amount of charged particles and plasma to enter our atmosphere. As a result, Earth’s core begins to overheat. As a way to expend this overheating, Earth produces more mantle plumes which works their way up through the upper mantle, advances into the asthenoshpere, extends through the lithosphere, and breaks through the crust. This process markedly resembles that of humans  when become overheated ‘sweat’ through their pores cooling the body.

The opposite occurs when the Earth’s core becomes slightly too cool, then mantle plumes dissipate, oceans and atmosphere begin to cool and temperatures may fluctuate and lower…then the cycle starts all over again. The time period between these warming and cooling trends do in fact vary, however, they do maintain short-term, moderate, and long-term cycles. This could be 11 year, 100 year, 1000 year and etc.

I have no illusion of my work being recognized by the major world space agencies, I do not have the pedigree nor do I have some form of contractual agreement with them. However, I have been able to maintain my connection with some of the brightest scientists who do in fact work for said agencies and Universities. Some might call me a colleague, others I surely call my mentors. There will be a time in the not to distant future when you will see my 2012 Equation being announced to the public. But it will not be my name attached to this new discovery. I can assure you it will be one from our government space agency, or Europe or Netherlands. All of which is truly fine with me. And if it’s one with whom I have been working with, I will clap the loudest.

_new_equation 2012

Before I go on, I hope you will see this new release ties in with the last five or so released scientific papers. From my point of view they all point to the same direction. (see 2012 Equation)

(NASA) Earth’s atmosphere is leaking. Every day, around 90 tons of material escapes from our planet’s upper atmosphere and streams out into space. Although missions such as ESA’s Cluster fleet have long been investigating this leakage, there are still many open questions. How and why is Earth losing its atmosphere – and how is this relevant in our hunt for lie elsewhere in the Universe?

Given the expanse of our atmosphere, 90 tons per day amounts to a small leak. Earth’s atmosphere weighs in at around five quadrillion (5 × 1015) tons so we are in no danger of running out any time soon.

ESO_IllustrationJune09

We have been exploring Earth’s magnetic environment for years using satellites such as ESA’s Cluster mission, a fleet of four spacecraft launched in 2000. Cluster has been continuously observing the magnetic interactions between the Sun and Earth for over a decade and half; this longevity, combined with its multi-spacecraft capabilities and unique orbit, have made it a key player in understanding both Earth’s leaking atmosphere and how our planet interacts with the surrounding Solar System.

Earth’s magnetic field is complex; it extends from the interior of our planet out into space, exerting its influence over a region of space dubbed the magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere – and its inner region (the plasmasphere), a doughnut-shaped portion sitting atop our atmosphere, which co-rotates with Earth and extends to an average distance of 12,427 miles (20,000 km) – is flooded with charged particles and ions that are trapped, bouncing back and forth along field lines.

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At its outer sunward edge, the magnetosphere meets the solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles – mostly protons and electrons – flowing from the Sun. Here, our magnetic field acts like a shield, deflecting and rerouting the incoming wind as a rock would obstruct a stream of water. This analogy can be continued for the side of Earth further from the Sun – particles within the solar wind are sculpted around our planet and slowly come back together, forming an elongated tube (named the magneto-tail), which contains trapped sheets of plasma and interacting field lines.

However, our magnetosphere shield does have its weaknesses; at Earth’s poles the field lines are open, like those of a standard bar magnet (these locations are named the polar cusps). Here, solar wind particles can head inwards towards Earth, filling up the magnetosphere with energetic particles.

Just as particles can head inwards down these open polar lines, particles can also head outwards. Ions from Earth’s upper atmosphere – the ionosphere, which extends to roughly 621 miles (1000 km) above the Earth – also flood out to fill up this region of space. Although missions such as Cluster have discovered much, the processes involved remain unclear.

cluster_electrons

“The question of plasma transport and atmospheric loss is relevant for both planets and stars, and is an incredibly fascinating and important topic. Understanding how atmospheric matter escapes is crucial to understanding how life can develop on a planet,” said Arnaud Masson, ESA’s Deputy Project Scientist for the Cluster mission. “The interaction between incoming and outgoing material in Earth’s magnetosphere is a hot topic at the moment; where exactly is this stuff coming from? How did it enter our patch of space?”

Initially, scientists believed Earth’s magnetic environment to be filled purely with particles of solar origin. However, as early as the 1990s it was predicted that Earth’s atmosphere was leaking out into the plasmasphere – something that has since turned out to be true. Given the expanse of our atmosphere, 90 tons per day amounts to a small leak. Earth’s atmosphere weighs in at around five quadrillion (5 × 1015) tons so we are in no danger of running out any time soon.

Observations have shown sporadic, powerful columns of plasma, dubbed plumes, growing within the plasmasphere, travelling outwards to the edge of the magnetosphere and interacting with solar wind plasma entering the magnetosphere.

More recent studies have unambiguously confirmed another source – Earth’s atmosphere is constantly leaking! Alongside the aforementioned plumes, a steady, continuous flow of material (comprising oxygen, hydrogen and helium ions) leaves our planet’s plasmasphere from the polar regions, replenishing the plasma within the magnetosphere. Cluster found proof of this wind, and has quantified its strength for both overall (reported in a paper published in 2013) and for hydrogen ions in particular (reported in 2009).

bowshock-drives-magnetosphere.

Overall, about 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of material is escaping our atmosphere every second, amounting to almost 90 tons per day. Singling out just cold ions (light hydrogen ions, which require less energy to escape and thus possess a lower energy in the magnetosphere), the escape mass totals thousands of tons per year.

Cold ions are important; many satellites – Cluster excluded – cannot detect them due to their low energies, but they form a significant part of the net matter loss from Earth, and may play a key role in shaping our magnetic environment.

Solar storms and periods of heightened solar activity appear to speed up Earth’s atmospheric loss significantly, by more than a factor of three. However, key questions remain: How do ions escape, and where do they originate? What processes are at play, and which is dominant? Where do the ions go? And how?

One of the key escape processes is thought to be centrifugal acceleration, which speeds up ions at Earth’s poles as they cross the shape-shifting magnetic field lines there. These ions are shunted onto different drift trajectories, gain energy and end up heading away from Earth into the magneto-tail, where they interact with plasma and return to Earth at far higher speeds than they departed with – a kind of boomerang effect.

cluster_observes_all_areas

Such high-energy particles can pose a threat to space-based technology, so understanding them is important. Cluster has explored this process multiple times during the past decade and a half – finding it to affect heavier ions such as oxygen more than lighter ones, and detecting strong, high-speed beams of ions rocketing back to Earth from the magneto-tail nearly 100 times over the course of three years.

More recently, scientists have explored the process of magnetic reconnection, one of the most efficient physical processes by which the solar wind enters Earth’s magnetosphere and accelerates plasma. In this process, plasma interacts and exchanges energy with magnetic field lines; different lines reconfigure themselves, breaking, shifting around and forging new connections by merging with other lines, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process.

Here, the cold ions are thought to be important. We know that cold ions affect the magnetic reconnection process, for example slowing down the reconnection rate at the boundary where the solar wind meets the magnetosphere (the magnetopause), but we are still unsure of the mechanisms at play.

“In essence, we need to figure out how cold plasma ends up at the magnetopause,” said Philippe Escoubet, ESA’s Project Scientist for the Cluster mission. “There are a few different aspects to this; we need to know the processes involved in transporting it there, how these processes depend on the dynamic solar wind and the conditions of the magnetosphere, and where plasma is coming from in the first place – does it originate in the ionosphere, the plasmasphere, or somewhere else?”

Recently, scientists modeled and simulated Earth’s magnetic environment with a focus on structures known as plasmoids and flux ropes – cylinders, tubes, and loops of plasma that become tangled up with magnetic field lines. These arise when the magnetic reconnection process occurs in the magnetotail and ejects plasmoids both towards the outer tail and towards Earth.

Cold ions may play a significant role in deciding the direction of the ejected plasmoid. These recent simulations showed a link between plasmoids heading towards Earth and heavy oxygen ions leaking out from the ionosphere – in other words, oxygen ions may reduce and quench the reconnection rates at certain points within the magneto-tail that produce tail-ward trajectories, thus making it more favorable at other sites that instead send them Earthwards. These results agree with existing Cluster observations.

Another recent Cluster study compared the two main atmospheric escape mechanisms Earth experiences – sporadic plumes emanating through the plasmasphere, and the steady leakage of Earth’s atmosphere from the ionosphere – to see how they might contribute to the population of cold ions residing at the dayside magnetopause (the magnetosphere-solar wind boundary nearest the Sun).

interplanetary_magnetic_field5

Both escape processes appear to depend in different ways on the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), the solar magnetic field that is carried out into the Solar System by the solar wind. This field moves through space in a spiraling pattern due to the rotation of the Sun, like water released from a lawn sprinkler. Depending on how the IMF is aligned, it can effectively cancel out part of Earth’s magnetic field at the magnetopause, linking up and merging with our field and allowing the solar wind to stream in.

Plumes seem to occur when the IMF is oriented southward (anti-parallel to Earth’s magnetic field, thus acting as mentioned above). Conversely, leaking outflows from the ionosphere occur during northward-oriented IMF. Both processes occur more strongly when the solar wind is either denser or travelling faster (thus exerting a higher dynamic pressure).

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“While there is still much to learn, we’ve been able to make great progress here,” said Masson. “These recent studies have managed to successfully link together multiple phenomena – namely the ionospheric leak, plumes from the plasmasphere, and magnetic reconnection – to paint a better picture of Earth’s magnetic environment. This research required several years of ongoing observation, something we could only get with Cluster.”

 

 

JUST IN: Study of Jet Stream and Ocean Currents Main Driver of Extreme Weather

Droughts in California are mainly controlled by wind, not by the amount of evaporated moisture in the air, new research has found. The findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, on June 30th 2016.

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The researchers found that disturbances in atmospheric circulation, the large-scale movement of air, have the most effect on drought because they can affect factors that will cause it to rain more or less. The study co-authors are Qinjian Jin, a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Zong-Liang Yang, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences; and Paul Dirmeyer, a professor at George Mason University.

You will notice this new study affirms the 1998 Battros Equation, but not unexpectedly stops short of evaluating the “cause” of the shifting ocean and jet stream currents. I dedicated two chapters in my 2005 book “Solar Rain: The Earth Changes Have Begun”; to this ongoing disconnect which amazingly was induced by the respective agencies (NASA-NOAA) reservedly sharing information. Although it has improved measurably over the last five years, it really did come down to the Left Hand unaware of the Right Hand’s doings.

_1998 Equation

Although a strong El Niño in the winter of 2015 helped diminish the drought in California which had been in a severe drought since 2011. The current drought is caused by a high-pressure system that disturbs the atmospheric circulation. The development of the high-pressure system is related to a sea surface temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean, according to research cited by the study.

The research increases the understanding of how the water cycle is related to extreme events and could eventually help in predicting droughts and floods, said lead author Jiangfeng Wei, a research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

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The researchers analyzed 30-year data sets that recorded precipitation, ocean evaporation, surface wind speed and atmospheric pressure on and near the west coast of the United States. These are all factors that influence the water cycle in California. One of the difficulties of studying the water cycle, Wei said, is that the water sources for precipitation cannot be directly observed, so the team also used a mathematical moisture-tracking method and high-resolution model simulations.

Their analysis showed that although moisture evaporated from the Pacific Ocean is the major source for California precipitation, the amount of water evaporated did not strongly influence precipitation in California, except in the cases of very heavy flooding. That’s because the amount of water evaporated from this ocean region does not change much year by year, researchers found, and did not cause rain to occur more or less often.

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“Ocean evaporation has little direct influence on California precipitation because of its relatively weak variability,” Wei said. Instead, the researchers found that disturbances in atmospheric circulation, the large-scale movement of air, have the most effect on drought because they can affect factors that will cause it to rain more or less.

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“The topic is extremely timely as current and future climate change would mean more changes in extreme events such as droughts and floods,” Yang said. “Understanding this asymmetric contribution of ocean evaporation to drought and flooding in California will ultimately help us make better predictions.”

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BREAKING NEWS: New Study Further Confirms Battros 2012 Equation Related to Convection

A new study carried out on the floor of Pacific Ocean provides the most detailed view yet of how the Earth’s mantle flows beneath the ocean’s tectonic plates. The findings, published in the journal Nature, appear to upend a common belief that the strongest deformation in the mantle is controlled by large-scale convection movement of the plates. Instead, the highest resolution imaging yet reveals smaller-scale processes at work that have more powerful effects.

archipelago_formation

By developing a better picture of the underlying engine of plate tectonics, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive plate movement and influence related process, including those involving Earthquakes and volcanoes.

When we look out at the Earth, we see its rigid crust, a relatively thin layer of rock that makes up the continents and the ocean floor. The crust sits on tectonic plates that move slowly over time in a layer called the lithosphere. At the bottom of the plates, some 80 to 100 kilometers below the surface, the asthenosphere begins. Earth’s interior flows more easily in the asthenosphere, and convection here is believed to help drive plate tectonics, but how exactly that happens and what the boundary between the lithosphere and asthenosphere looks like isn’t clear.

equation-mantle plumes

One process missing from this study, is what causes the ebb and flow of convection? This is to say, what is the mechanism which causes the Earth’s core to heat up, or in cycles when it cools down? This is fundamental process of the dynamo theory which is “convection. My research suggests it is the cyclical expansion and contraction of celestial charged particles.

2012 Equation:
Increase Charged Particles → Decreased Magnetic Field → Increase Outer Core Convection → Increase of Mantle Plumes → Increase in Earthquake and Volcanoes → Cools Mantle and Outer Core → Return of Outer Core Convection (Mitch Battros – July 2012)

To take a closer look at these processes, a team led by scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory installed an array of seismometers on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, near the center of the Pacific Plate. By recording seismic waves generated by Earthquakes, they were able to look deep inside the Earth and create images of the mantle plumes, similar to the way a doctor images a broken bone.

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Seismic waves move faster through flowing rock because the pressure deforms the crystals of olivine, a mineral common in the mantle, and stretches them in the same direction. By looking for faster seismic wave movement, scientists can map where the mantle plume is flowing today and where it has flowed in the past.

Three basic forces are believed to drive oceanic plate movement: plates are “pushed” away from mid-ocean ridges as new sea floor forms; plates are “pulled” as the oldest parts of the plate dive back into the Earth at subduction zones; and convection within the asthenosphere helps ferry the plates along. If the dominant flow in the asthenosphere resulted solely from “ridge push” or “plate pull,” then the crystals just below the plate should align with the plate’s movement. The study finds, however, that the direction of the crystals doesn’t correlate with the apparent plate motion at any depth in the asthenosphere. Instead, the alignment of the crystals is strongest near the top of the lithosphere where new sea floor forms, weakest near the base of the plate, and then peaks in strength again about 250 kilometers below the surface, deep in the asthenosphere.

mesosphere_mantle

“If the main flow were the mantle being sheared by the plate above it, where the plate is just dragging everything with it, we would predict a fast direction that’s different than what we see,” said coauthor James Gaherty, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty. “Our data suggest that there are two other processes in the mantle that are stronger: one, the asthenosphere is clearly flowing on its own, but it’s deeper and smaller scale; and, two, seafloor spreading at the ridge produces a very strong lithospheric fabric that cannot be ignored.” Shearing probably does happen at the plate boundary, Gaherty said, but it is substantially weaker.

Looking at the entire upper mantle, the scientists found that the most powerful process causing mantle plumes to flow happens in the upper part of the lithosphere as new sea floor is created at a mid-ocean ridge. As molten rock rises, only a fraction of the flowing rock squeezes up to the ridge. On either side, the pressure bends the excess rock 90 degrees so it pushes into the lithosphere parallel to the bottom of the crust. The flow solidifies as it cools, creating a record of sea floor spreading over millions of years.

In the asthenosphere, the patterns suggest two potential flow scenarios, both providing evidence of convection channels that bottom out about 250 to 300 kilometers below the Earth’s surface. In one scenario, differences in pressure drive the flow like squeezing toothpaste from a tube, causing rocks to flow east-to-west or west-to-east within the channel. The pressure difference could be caused by hot, partially molten plumes beneath mid-ocean ridges or beneath the cooling plates diving into the Earth at subduction zones, the authors write. Another possible scenario is that small-scale convection is taking place within the channel as chunks of mantle cool and sink. High-resolution gravity measurements show changes over relatively small distances that could reflect small-scale convection.

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_science-of-cycles33

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New Study Upends A Theory Of How Earth’s Mantle Flows

A new study carried out on the floor of Pacific Ocean provides the most detailed view yet of how the Earth’s mantle flows beneath the ocean’s tectonic plates. The findings, published in the journal Nature, appear to upend a common belief that the strongest deformation in the mantle is controlled by large-scale movement of the plate tectonics. Instead, the highest resolution imaging yet reveals smaller-scale processes at work that have more powerful effects.

earth's mantle

By developing a better picture of the underlying engine of plate tectonics, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive plate movement and influence related process, including those involving earthquakes and volcanoes.

When we look out at the earth, we see its rigid crust, a relatively thin layer of rock that makes up the continents and the ocean floor. The crust sits on tectonic plates that move slowly over time in a layer called the lithosphere. At the bottom of the plates, some 80 to 100 kilometers below the surface, the asthenosphere begins. Earth’s interior flows more easily in the asthenosphere, and convection here is believed to help drive plate tectonics, but how exactly that happens and what the boundary between the lithosphere and asthenosphere looks like isn’t clear.

To take a closer look at these processes, a team led by scientists from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory installed an array of seismometers on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, near the center of the Pacific Plate. By recording seismic waves generated by earthquakes, they were able to look deep inside the earth and create images of the mantle’s flow, similar to the way a doctor images a broken bone.

Seismic waves move faster through flowing rock because the pressure deforms the crystals of olivine, a mineral common in the mantle, and stretches them in the same direction. By looking for faster seismic wave movement, scientists can map where the mantle is flowing today and where it has flowed in the past.

Three basic forces are believed to drive oceanic plate movement: plates are “pushed” away from mid-ocean ridges as new sea floor forms; plates are “pulled” as the oldest parts of the plate dive back into the earth at subduction zones; and convection within the asthenosphere helps ferry the plates along. If the dominant flow in the asthenosphere resulted solely from “ridge push” or “plate pull,” then the crystals just below the plate should align with the plate’s movement. The study finds, however, that the direction of the crystals doesn’t correlate with the apparent plate motion at any depth in the asthenosphere. Instead, the alignment of the crystals is strongest near the top of the lithosphere where new sea floor forms, weakest near the base of the plate, and then peaks in strength again about 250 kilometers below the surface, deep in the asthenosphere.

“If the main flow were the mantle being sheared by the plate above it, where the plate is just dragging everything with it, we would predict a fast direction that’s different than what we see,” said coauthor James Gaherty, a geophysicist at Lamont-Doherty. “Our data suggest that there are two other processes in the mantle that are stronger: one, the asthenosphere is clearly flowing on its own, but it’s deeper and smaller scale; and, two, seafloor spreading at the ridge produces a very strong lithospheric fabric that cannot be ignored.” Shearing probably does happen at the plate boundary, Gaherty said, but it is substantially weaker.

Donald Forsyth, a marine geophysicist at Brown University who was not involved in the new study, said, “These new results will force reconsideration of prevailing models of flow in the oceanic mantle.”

Looking at the entire upper mantle, the scientists found that the most powerful process causing rocks to flow happens in the upper part of the lithosphere as new sea floor is created at a mid-ocean ridge. As molten rock rises, only a fraction of the flowing rock squeezes up to the ridge. On either side, the pressure bends the excess rock 90 degrees so it pushes into the lithosphere parallel to the bottom of the crust. The flow solidifies as it cools, creating a record of sea floor spreading over millions of years.

This “corner flow” process was known, but the study brings it into greater focus, showing that it deforms the rock crystals to a depth of at least 50 kilometers into the lithosphere.

In the asthenosphere, the patterns suggest two potential flow scenarios, both providing evidence of convection channels that bottom out about 250 to 300 kilometers below the earth’s surface. In one scenario, differences in pressure drive the flow like squeezing toothpaste from a tube, causing rocks to flow east-to-west or west-to-east within the channel. The pressure difference could be caused by hot, partially molten rock piled up beneath mid-ocean ridges or beneath the cooling plates diving into the earth at subduction zones, the authors write. Another possible scenario is that small-scale convection is taking place within the channel as chunks of mantle cool and sink. High-resolution gravity measurements show changes over relatively small distances that could reflect small-scale convection.

“The fact that we observe smaller-scale processes that dominate upper-mantle deformation, that’s a big step forward. But it still leaves uncertain what those flow processes are. We need a wider set of observations from other regions,” Gaherty said.

The study is part of the NoMelt project, which was designed to explore the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary at the center of an oceanic plate, far from the influence of melting at the ridge. The scientists believe the findings here are representative of the Pacific Basin and likely ocean basins around the world.

NoMelt is unique because of its location. Most studies use land-based seismometers at edge of the ocean that tend to highlight the motion of the plates over the asthenosphere because of its large scale and miss the smaller-scale processes. NoMelt’s ocean bottom seismometer array, with the assistance of Lamont’s seismic research ship the Marcus G. Langseth, recorded data from earthquakes and other seismic sources from the middle of the plate over the span of a year.

A New Look At The Galaxy-Shaping Power Of Black Holes

Data from a now-defunct X-ray satellite is providing new insights into the complex tug-of-war between galaxies, the hot plasma that surrounds them, and the giant black holes that lurk in their centers.

black hole

Launched from Japan on February 17, 2016, the Japanese space agency (JAXA) Hitomi X-ray Observatory functioned for just over a month before contact was lost and the craft disintegrated. But the data obtained during those few weeks was enough to paint a startling new picture of the dynamic forces at work within galaxies.

New research, published in the journal Nature today, reveals data that shows just how important the giant black holes in galactic centers are to the evolution of the galaxies as a whole.

“We think that supermassive black holes act like thermostats,” said Brian McNamara, University Research Chair in Astrophysics at the University of Waterloo. “They regulate the growth of galaxies.”

Champagne bubbles of plasma

During its brief life, the Hitomi satellite collected X-ray data from the core of the Perseus cluster, an enormous gravitationally-bound grouping of hundreds of galaxies. Located some 240 million light years from earth, the Perseus cluster is one of the largest known structures in the universe. The cluster includes not only the ordinary matter that makes up the galaxies, but an “atmosphere” of hot plasma with a temperature of tens of millions of degrees, as well as a halo of invisible dark matter.

Earlier studies, going back to the 1960s, have shown that each of the galaxies in the cluster — and indeed most galaxies — likely contains a supermassive black hole in its centre, an object 100 million to more than ten billion times as massive as our sun.

“These giant black holes are among the universe’s most efficient energy generators, a hundred times more efficient than a nuclear reactor,” said McNamara from Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Faculty of Science. “Matter falling into the black hole is ripped apart, releasing vast amounts of energy in the form of high speed particles and thermal energy.”

This heat is released from just outside the black hole’s event horizon, the boundary of no return. The remaining matter gets absorbed into the black hole, adding to its mass. The released energy heats up the surrounding gas, creating bubbles of hot plasma that ripple through the cluster, just as bubbles of air rise up in a glass of champagne.

The research is shedding light on the crucial role that this hot plasma plays in galactic evolution. Researchers are now tackling the foremost issue in the formation of structure in the universe and asking: why doesn’t most of the gas cool down, and form stars and galaxies? The answer seems to be that bubbles created by blasts of energy from the black holes keep temperatures too high for such structures to form.

“Any time a little bit of gas falls into the black hole, it releases an enormous amount of energy,” said McNamara. “It creates these bubbles, and the bubbles keep the plasma hot. That’s what prevents galaxies from becoming even bigger than they are now.”

Because plasma is invisible to the eye, and to optical telescopes, it wasn’t until the advent of X-ray astronomy that the full picture began to emerge. In visible light, the Perseus cluster appears to contain many individual galaxies, separated by seemingly-empty space. In an X-ray image, however, the individual galaxies are invisible, and the plasma atmosphere, centred on the cluster’s largest galaxy, known as NGC 1275, dominates the scene.

Although the black hole at the heart of NGC 1275 has only one-thousandth of the mass of its host galaxy, and has a much smaller volume, it seems to have a huge influence on how the galaxy and how the surrounding hot plasma atmosphere evolve.

“It’s as though the galaxy somehow knows about this black hole sitting at the centre,” said McNamara. “It’s like nature’s thermostat, that keeps these galaxies from growing. If the galaxy tries to grow too fast, matter falls into the black hole, releasing an enormous amount of energy, which drives out the matter and prevents it from forming new stars.”

McNamara notes that the actual event horizon of the black hole is about the same size as our solar system, making it as small compared to its host galaxy as a grape is to the Earth. “What’s going on in this tiny region is affecting a vast volume of space,” he said.

Thanks to the black hole’s regulatory effect, the gas that would have formed new stars instead remains a hot plasma — whose properties Hitomi was designed to measure.

Doomed satellite missions

Hitomi employed an X-ray spectrometer which measures the Doppler shifts in emissions from the plasma; those shifts can then be used to calculate the speed at which different parts of the plasma are moving. At the heart of the spectrometer is a microcalorimeter; cooled to just one-twentieth of a degree above absolute zero, the device records the precise energy of each incoming X-ray photon.

Getting an X-ray satellite equipped with a microcalorimeter into space has proved daunting: McNamara was deeply involved with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, launched in 1999, that was initially set to include a microcalorimeter, but the project was scaled back due to budget constraints, and the calorimeter was dropped. Another mission with the Japanese space agency known as ASTRO-E was equipped with a microcalorimeter; it was set for launch in 2000, but the rocket exploded shortly after liftoff. A third effort, Japan’s Suzaku satellite, launched in 2005, but a leak in the cooling system destroyed the calorimeter. Hitomi launched and deployed perfectly, but a series of problems with the attitude control system caused the satellite to spin out of control and break up.

The data from Hitomi, limited as it is, is enough to make astronomers re-think the role of plasma in galactic evolution, according to McNamara. “The plasma can be thought of forming an enormous atmosphere that envelopes whole clusters of galaxies. These hot atmospheres represent the failure of the past — the failure of the universe to create bigger galaxies,” he said. “But it’s also the hope for the future. This is the raw material for the future growth of galaxies — which is everything: stars, planets, people. It’s the raw material that in the next several billion years is going to make the next generation of suns and solar systems. And how rapidly that happens is governed by the black hole.”

The observations give researchers, for the first time, a direct measurement of the turbulent speed of the hot plasma. “This measurement tells us how the enormous energy released by supermassive black holes regulates the growth of the galaxy and the black hole itself,” said McNamara.

Chemical Trail On Saturn’s Moon Titan May Be Key To Prebiotic Conditions

NASA’s Cassini and Huygens missions have provided a wealth of data about chemical elements found on Saturn’s moon Titan, and Cornell scientists have uncovered a chemical trail that suggests prebiotic conditions may exist there.

mars

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, features terrain with Earthlike attributes such as lakes, rivers and seas, although filled with liquid methane and ethane instead of water. Its dense atmosphere — a yellow haze — brims with nitrogen and methane. When sunlight hits this toxic atmosphere, the reaction produces hydrogen cyanide — a possible prebiotic chemical key.

“This paper is a starting point, as we are looking for prebiotic chemistry in conditions other than Earth’s,” said Martin Rahm, postdoctoral researcher in chemistry and lead author of the new study, “Polymorphism and Electronic Structure of Polyimine and Its Potential Significance for Prebiotic Chemistry on Titan,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, July 4.

To grasp the blueprint of early planetary life, Rahm said we must think outside of green-blue, Earth-based biology: “We are used to our own conditions here on Earth. Our scientific experience is at room temperature and ambient conditions. Titan is a completely different beast.” Although Earth and Titan both have flowing liquids, Titan’s temperatures are very low, and there is no liquid water. “So if we think in biological terms, we’re probably going to be at a dead end,” he said.

Hydrogen cyanide is an organic chemical that can react with itself or with other molecules — forming long chains, or polymers, one of which is called polyimine. The chemical is flexible, which helps mobility under very cold conditions, and it can absorb the sun’s energy and become a possible catalyst for life.

“Polyimine can exist as different structures, and they may be able to accomplish remarkable things at low temperatures, especially under Titan’s conditions,” said Rahm, who works in the lab of Roald Hoffmann, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry and Cornell’s Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus. Rahm and the paper’s other scientists consulted with Hoffmann on this work.

“We need to continue to examine this, to understand how the chemistry evolves over time. We see this as a preparation for further exploration,” said Rahm. “If future observations could show there is prebiotic chemistry in a place like Titan, it would be a major breakthrough. This paper is indicating that prerequisites for processes leading to a different kind of life could exist on Titan, but this only the first step.”