Total Pageviews

Saturday, July 30, 2016

WHERE IS PLANET EARTH IN OUR UNIVERSE?

The simple answer is that experts don't know where we are in our Universe.  According to one report, there is no center of the universe and no edge.  According to another, the observable Universe is 46 billion light years across.  How incredibly precise, when we seem not to know much.

All this is certainly confusing to me, for, if the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago, the fastest the edge can be moving away from that bang can't be more than 13.8 billion light years, so how can the edge of what we see be further away than 13.8 BLY( billion light years) x 2, or 27.6 BLY?

Sure, I know that our Universe is growing at an accelerated rate, but light can't go faster than the speed of light...or can it?  Apparently, yes, it can.  In any case, if you were not aware of what smart elementary school students know, in one second light travels a distance 7.5 times around our planet, which in one year, or one light year (LY), is nearly 6 trillion miles.  The three stars closest to us, in the Alpha Centauri system, are 25 trillion miles away.

Can you believe that our best minds, even with the Hubble and other high tech tools, aren't sure of the shape of our Universe?  (That omega symbol represents the critical density of the cosmos.)


Worse, according to these scientists, we can see and measure only 4.6% of what exists:

No one knows what dark matter and dark energy are.  Even something so out there as black holes....you want to guess how many are just in our galaxy?  100 million, and, of course, the one in the middle of our disk.  Has anyone ever photographed a black hole?  Nope.

Einstein predicted this phenomenon exactly a hundred years ago.  Today, a team is in the planning stages of combining the capabilities of 50 radio telescopes, to be named the Event Horizon Telescope, and point this system to the middle of our galaxy and hope to succeed in making the first photograph.  Wait, a minute, if black holes are at the middle of any galaxy and we can see many of them, why hasn't anyone ever taken a photo of one?  Even if they are invisible, just the absence of everything should be a good a shot as any.  Anyway, these are three speculations.


Beginning with all the above, it is remarkable what we do know. Most of us, when we look into a clear sky at night, even with binoculars, only see space and twinkles.  I still marvel at how Galileo Galilei 400 years ago detected planet Neptune (below). I  have difficulty with Saturn and its rings, and I have a Celestron.  Galileo, incidentally, while being harassed by the Roman Inquisition, lived to the age of 77 when the life expectancy in those days was in the lower 40's.


In any case, astronomers know exactly where Planet Earth is in our Milky Way Galaxy.  So what are you seeing to the right?  Click on it if you can't read the fine print, but towards the bottom is our Sun.  To appreciate the vastness of space, the time it would take for light to travel from one end of our galaxy to the other is 100,000 years.  Jesus Christ, for Heaven's sake, was only 2,000 years ago.

Our Milky Way is in an assemblage of 54 galaxies, mostly dwarfs, called The Local Group, seen to the left.  The diameter of TLG is 10 million light years.

As a helpful aside, the closest real galaxy to ours is Andromeda (right--certainly looks like ours), 2.5 million light years away, which you can  actually barely see as a tiny fuzzy blur if you know where to look.  Here is something frightening:  in four billion years, our two galaxies will collide.  Actually, not so scary, because the space between each star is so vast that they will all co-exist within a larger galaxy.


We are all then in the Virgo Cluster of 300 Local Groups (up to 2000 galaxies--and each has from 100 billion to a trillion stars), around 110 light years across.  As there are, perhaps, 100 billion to a trillion galaxies, there should then be from 10 to the 22nd power to 10 to the 24th power stars in the sky.

R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii and Helene Courtois of the University of Lyon, then went on to identify a supercluster of 100,000 galaxies, and named it Laniakea, Hawaiian for immeasurable Heaven.


The insignificance of the Laniakea Supercluster is that it represents, maybe, 0.01% to 0.001% of the observable Universe.

-
Typhoon Nida is about to strike northern Philippines, and appears next headed for Hong Kong:


-

Friday, July 29, 2016

WHAT IS RIGHT ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY?

Yesterday (scroll down to next posting) I asked:


Right or wrong, there is today no other option worthy of pursuit.  If global warming is as bad as scientists predict, and there is no reason to believe this is any kind of cruel joke, we need to wean our world away from all the fossil fuels, because when you burn them, they produce carbon dioxide, which causes a Greenhouse Effect, to increase the temperature of Planet Earth.

Solar energy is a kind of catch-all to include wind/ocean energy, biomass, and maybe geothermal...but not nuclear power, which is ironic, for nuclear fusion of our Sun and stars creates the energy that is radiated to our globe.  So, to be more all-inclusive, let us consider fusion, the fusing of hydrogen and its isotopes (deuterium and tritium) to produce energy, within the family of sustainable renewable energy options.  Fission, on the other hand, the kind of nuclear electricity produced today from uranium and plutonium (the equivalent of an Atomic Bomb) has serious problems with waste storage (maybe a million years or more) and dirty bombs.  Mind you, fusion is what the Hydrogen Bomb is all about, but there is sufficient fuel to support Humanity for millions of years.

Looking at the right column, note that solar in the table WORLD ENERGY PRODUCTION 2016 is but one quarter of one percent (divide 684,800 by 277,320,000, then multiply by 100) the energy used today.  But even this almost infinitesimal amount was sufficient such that 64% of new electricity in the USA came from the Sun in the first quarter of this year!!!  If this sounds impossible to you, click on that article and read the truth.

That publication goes on to say that sunlight is rather minor compared to hydroelectricity, wind energy and biomass, as reinforced by that table to the right.  So something is going right with solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

But a close analysis of all the solar potential announced shows flaws.  For example, Scott and Julie Brusaw have for a decade been touting converting just our national highways into energy-gathering panels.  Yes, apparently, it might be possible to drive on durable solar cells, which cover 28,000 square miles of U.S. lands.  Just the sun shining on our roads could generate three times the power of what we consume.  Cost?  $56 trillion, about 20 times the annual federal budget.  Much can be done about clean energy, but the costs are just not competitive.

Second, solar power is too diffuse.  While Solar Impulse 2 completed an astonishing journey, sunlight will never be able to replace our current air transport system.  If you are into data, read this article which describes why.

Here is a sober summary of solar energy, which comes with this useful energy availability graphic:


The reality, too, is that the Sun only shines a few hours/day, and our winds are inconsistent.  Most long-term studies show that batteries will not be able to serve as the storage medium.  Cost is but one factor.  The key is, then, to apply all the renewable pathways, including the ocean.

As important as energy is to our world today, decision-makers are just not treating this problem with any kind of priority.  Why did we spend up to $6 trillion (estimates by TIME magazine last year and Mother Jones three years ago) on those Middle East wars?  Sure, hindsight is easy, but you got to wonder how much better we would be today if that sum had gone into renewable energy and fusion development?

So what about fusion?  Surely, if all our stars use this process, we should be able to do the same.  I actually spent two stints at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory working on laser fusion.  Nearly forty years ago I came to a sad conclusion that the laser system to accomplish this task was beyond my lifetime...and I've been right.  So our decision-makers focused on something called inertial confinement, using a torus (donut-shape) device, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, now only known as ITER, in southern France.  This $14 billion embarrassment will not produce fusion until 2035, then designers need to think about building what will be stage 2, which will be at least 20 years away from commercialization, if you're optimistic.

Edward Teller successfully exploded a Hydrogen Bomb.  He decided that the way to control fusion was with a laser.  I went to work for him.  He passed away and left the National Ignition Facility.  They have yet to attain net-positive energy, and has just about given up.

Maybe it will take a non-conventional concept, such as at last check being pursued by my friends, Chuck Helsley and Bob Burke, who run Fusion Power Corporation.  How long does it take for a new energy source to attain reality?  Well, here is a fusion timeline, which goes back almost a century.  Helsley/Burke are included in this historical summary.  I'm rooting for them, and the our best minds doing their best.  If they all fail, you can only worry about the future of Humanity.

-
Still a tropical depression at 30 MPH, this looming typhoon will strike northern Philippines this weekend, then head for Hong Kong:


-

Thursday, July 28, 2016

WHAT IS WRONG WITH SOLAR ENERGY?

I just saw a headline from CleanTechnica indicating that solar power only supplied 1% of global electricity.  Mind you, electricity is about the only sector that actually uses renewable energy, for both air and ground transport run mostly on oil.  Do the calculations from the right column.  I get something around 2% of all energy utilized.  However, 43 years after the First Energy Crisis and 17 years after I retired, the renewables remain relatively insignificant.  Why? 

I've long been a cheerleader for renewable energy.  After all, I ran the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii for 15 years, and prior to that spent three years in the U.S. Senate, helping draft the original bills in the U.S. Senate for hydrogen and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, playing a role in the passage of the first wind energy legislation.  My SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth provides much of the experience I gained through most of my professional life.

Notwithstanding, I've come to a current conclusion that some of these green options are not worthy of commercialization today.  Further, there should be an appreciation that our Sun and winds come and go, so there is a definite devaluation factor when it comes to these intermittent options.

Compound the problem with the fact that oil prices are less than half what they were a couple of years ago:

Worse, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Oil Futures show petroleum at $57/barrel at the end of 2024.

So what is the renewable energy field to do under these depressing circumstances?  If you happen to be in academia or long-term research, continue most of your efforts, for it takes at least a decade and more probably a generation for anything particularly innovative to make a real difference.  Much needs to still be learned about biofuels and hydrogen, for example.  Regarding the latter, Stanford last month announced something to do with bismuth vanadate and nanocones that sound exciting, but I'm afraid will just join the annual list of concepts that make news splashes, but turn out to be uneconomical.

If you're into commercialization, there is a definite problem, for there is no way many of the clean energy options can compete unless, for reasons that mostly can be justified, governments provide generous incentives to level the playing field.  After all, there is such a thing as long-term life cycle analysis that can validate the utilization of your tax dollars for this purpose.  Many of these stimulus packages, however, are beginning to disappear, and most are in various stages of being diminished.

There are several pathways today that are just not ready for prime time, and some will never get there anyway.  One is wave power.  Hawaii has become a semi-active site, mostly because there has been some hysteresis related to once-powerful congressional influence we had and Cynthia Thielen, a local legislator, who, bless her heart, has continued to press for action.  Long ago I tried to explain to her the problem with waves, but she has persevered anyway.  Very simply, there are only a very few natural sites ideal for wave power.  The force of storms are such that you need to secure or protect these devices to such an extent that they become uneconomical.  Every facility I visited failed to continue operations, and a couple of them actually were good sites.  Most them self-destructed.

EcoWatch provides a balanced summary of wave power today, and let me use one quote:

I’d like to be optimistic, but I don’t think realistically I can be,” said George Hagerman, a research associate in the Virginia Tech University’s Advanced Research Institute and a contributor to the U.S. Department of Energy’s assessment of wave energy’s potential. “You’ve got all those cost issues of working in the ocean that offshore wind illustrates, and then you’ve got [an energy] conversion technology that really no one seems to have settled on a design that is robust, reliable and efficient. With wind, you’re harnessing the energy as a function of the speed of the wind. In wave energy, you’ve not only got the height of the wave, but you’ve got the period of the wave, so it becomes a more complicated problem.

I remember George a quarter century ago as the ONLY true advocate for this technology.  If he has given up, I fear the worst for this alternative.

I can add two more directions which are attempting to make a commercial run:  battery storage for electricity and hydrogen vehicles.  Over the next few weeks I'll detail why I think these efforts will fail today.  Someday, maybe, but not under current technological, pricing and infrastructure conditions.

Then there are those options which show incredible long term promise, but going nowhere for a variety of reasons.  Ocean thermal energy conversion and the Blue Revolution represent one such sustainable system because it takes an up-front billion dollar investment at high risk just to prove a principle.  The only hope is an enlightened mega-billionaire or two with a dream.  I'll continue to pursue this fantasy.  Unfortunately, I'm not close to being even a billionaire.

So am I advocating abandoning green power because most of them are non-competitive?  NO!  NO!  NO!  I admire many of those well-intended and questionable efforts because, for one, you need a transition towards progress, but also, there is that ominous aura of global warming that someday could well finally trigger a carbon tax (I wrote this article for the Huffington Post a little more than six years ago), suddenly making these investments both profitable and redeeming.

-

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THIS BLOG JUST DREW THE MOST NUMBER OF READERS EVER FOR ONE DAY

Two days ago (Monday, July 25) more people visited this blog site than ever before, 4325, compared to 3000 or so when I wrote on the 2010 Chile and 2011 Tohoku earthquakes.  Natural disasters, I've noted, tend to draw the most interest.  I normally average around 300 pings/day, so a factor of 15 increase gave me cause to wonder why.

In the Chile catastrophe I was in Amsterdam when the Huffington Post e-mailed me to please write an article on an earthquake approaching Hawaii.  Not really informing them I was not in the state, I did submit Hawaii Tsunami?  (don't have the faintest idea why the date says 4/29/10 when I published it on 2/27/10).  Clearly, there is a link with my HuffPo, for my blog posting of 27 February 2010 on  the Chile Earthquake became my highest readership ever.  

Similarly, on 11 March 2011 (the result of the monstrous earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster) my blog about-equalled the record.  I was in Bangkok scheduled to fly to Tokyo the next day, one of the more difficult days in my life.  The Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami on 21 March 2011 was my longest report for The Huffington Post.

So why did the following postings stimulate the most number of readers?


Graph of Blogger page views

As best as I can determine, those Solar Impulse articles somehow became linked to popular reporting sites, but my other postings written during this period actually got more viewers, so something else might be going on.

I might finally note that readers also most connected with this blog site when I wrote about "creatures," like whale sharks, sharks, snakes and giant alligators, plus psychedelics, such as magic truffles:


To close, my most popular postings according to Google are listed in the right column.  For some reason Qatar fascinates.

-

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

THE MUNDANITY OF ARCHITECTURE IN HAWAII

In my third year at Stanford I was taking more art than chemical engineering courses, and seriously thought about transferring into architecture.  However, that would have resulted in an extra year on campus, so that was my token venture into that field.

Here are 25 modern buildings CNN lists as the greatest.  Another grouping of 25 to inspire you, going way back in history.  The Haggia Sophia in Istanbul ranks at the top in most of these compilations.  No great surprise, but Hawaii completely missed the cut.  Thus, the purpose of my blog today.

Our 15 Craigside Photography Club has an August assignment focusing on architecture.  As others will probably feature beauty, shadows and perspective, I thought I'd try the other extreme.  Here is the result combining three of my recent The Bus trips in Honolulu covered in previous posts:  but with a focus on architecture.

I've long felt that the Pimple Building on Queen Emma Street, and officially called the Queen Emma Building, was the ugliest in Hawaii.  This ugly edifice appeared in my $1 JOYRIDE AROUND OAHU.

Designed in the 1960's by Jo Paul Rognstad to symbolize brute strength for the York Barbell Company and weight-lifting personality Dr. Richard You, the structure has led a checkered life.  

At one time it was scheduled to become housing for Hawaii Pacific University students.  More recent plans indicate 106 condos for seniors, with a rename to Queen Emma Regency.

Queen Emma was the wife of A. Liholiho, who in 1855 became Kamehameha IV.  She helped establish a public hospital to help Native Hawaiians, now called Queen's Medical Center.  With the King, she founded St. Andrew's Cathedral (located across the street from that Pimpled erection), starting Saint Andrew's Priory School for Girls and Saint Alban, which later became Iolani School.

The part that hurts is that I knew Jo Paul and his wife.  He is better known for Century Center (left), where he was headquartered.

We were interested in wind power using buildings to channel the trades into a giant vertical wind energy conversion system.  The power of the device increases with the cube of the velocity, so amplification made sense.  This was more than a quarter century before the Bahrain World Trade Center  (below) was built with three turbines.  Hawaii had the chance to be the first, but there is something about this state that fears doing anything extraordinary.

My primary reason for spending a night at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel earlier this month, reported on in REFLECTIONS FROM WAIKIKI, was to take a photo of what I considered to be the ultimate example of mediocre architecture in Hawaii:  the "new" Halekulani Hotel.  Unquestionably rated as the Best Hotel in Honolulu, in 1981 Mitsui Fudosan bought the property and hired Killingsworth and Associates, led by chief designer, Ronald Lindgren, to totally rebuild the rambling and decaying 190-room hotel into a 453-room jewel.  They instead created what appears to be a misplaced tribute in the classic style of a motel at a truck stop:


Here, the site of my favorite restaurant, La Mer, plus House Without a Key, made famous by Charlie Chan, where I took my photo at the masthead above with Diamond Head in the background, stands now an expensive monument to banality.

Flop #3 was partially covered last week in HOW TO BUY A $120 ALOHA SHIRT.  Here was an opportunity the School of Architecture at the University of Hawaii had two decades ago to design that quintessential blend of East, West and the Ocean for their new showcase building...and failed.  Again, Elmer Botsai, who was then their dean, was a good friend of mine, with a strong personality.  Why he acquiesced to settle for a typical block building baffles me.   They could have set the tone for our future with a spectacular masterpiece symbolizing Hawaii at the Hub of the Pacific.  They instead put up what looked similar to Hawaii Hall located across the outer mall of the Manoa Campus:


Okay, Architecture did not have any columns, but from a short distance they still look about the same, and Hawaii Hall was built in 1912.  I can almost empathize with what Elmer went through, for I retired from the University 17 years ago mostly because the system has historically been bogged down in futility.  Very simply, no one wants to get embarrassed, so no chances are taken.

Thirty-seven years ago I spent a short period as Academic Advisor to the Chancellor, and had an office in Hawaii Hall.  However, Holmes Hall and the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Building (corner of Dole and East-West Road) have housed me for forty years, and I'm still in that blue building:


That is Holmes Hall for the College of Engineering to the left, and it looks like a parking structure, but it does have a kind of charm with its internal greenery:


At least my POST building is blue, an acknowledgement that it houses the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology.  I say "my" because I (actually, most of the effort was led by Pat McGarey, who then headed Congressman Dan Akaka's staff, and Michael Cruickshank, who ran  the Marine Minerals Technology Center under the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, which I directed)  helped secure the initial funding from the Department of Interior towards planning and construction.  There was an effort made to name this the Daniel Akaka Building.  That failed.

So, anyway, at the end of my bus ride after buying my aloha shirt in Waikiki, I  walked by the Royal Mausoleum, for I remembered mentioning in my WAIKIKI REFLECTIONS that Princess Kaiulani was interred close by where I lived:


Turns out that we are even closer neighbors than I thought, for that blue building in the background is 15 Craigside.  For 34 years I have lived on the same block, Craigside to the right for 32 and 15 Craigside to the left for two:


Just realized that my home and campus office have almost the same kind of bluish windows.  But to close, I am mostly disappointed at the mundanity of architecture in Hawaii, compared to where we could have been if opportunities and chances were taken.

-