El Niño makes a comeback
El Niño, a natural event that changes the temperature of the Pacific Ocean, as well as influences global weather patterns is expected to occur within the next three months, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). El Niño’s are often linked with rising temperatures from the Pacific as well as causing floods across South America, and possibly aggravating arid conditions across Africa and Asia.
Researchers have witnessed surface temperatures of the sea in the East-central tropical region of the Pacific being at low El Niño levels since October, yet atmospheric conditions have not yet been affected by the conditions across the seas. Confidence in these predictions has grown since May 2018, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has predicted an event to start as early as this month, while the US meteorologists predict January 2019 as the probable start of an El Niño cycle.
The expected El Niño will see surface temperatures of the sea rising from 0.8 °C to 1.2°C above average temperatures.
Maxx Dilley, the Director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch, is naturally cautious about the result. “The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world”.
“Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures.”
Walking on the air
The first plane with no moving parts and propelled by ionic wind power has been flown by scientists and engineers in the USA. The 5-metre-wide aircraft has been designed with no propellers or turbines, and is reliant solely on an electrically generated ion stream 200ft in the air. Ions are atoms holding natural electrical charges that travel through the air between two electrodes – when the atoms collide with molecules in the air they produce an ionic wind; this wind propels the forward motion of the plane.
The aircraft, which has been described as a changer for the future of engineering in aerospace, could herald the introduction of aircraft that are able to be powered without the use of combustion emissions, has been manufactured, in essence a balsa wood prototype weighing under 2.5kg.
Proposals for ion drive planes were first made during the 1960s, when scientists and engineers looked at using a different process called Electro-Aerodynamic Propulsion. This process uses high voltages to generate ions. Research teams based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led by Dr Steven Barrett, following personal quest to get the idea underway again. Following a re-examination of the 1960’s research during 2009, Barrett published papers detailing the experimental engine of such an aircraft.
Totally inspired by the early research, Barrett and his team wanted to push physics to levels that had not been technically reached before. Following ten years of experiments and research, Barret and his team have built a plane that is able to fly using ionic wind power. Commercially, we may not see such technology being used for passenger flight just yet, but electro-aerodynamic propulsion could be used in drones or very small light aircraft.
Doctors get a bum deal from Lego
And you thought it was painful treading on it. A team of doctors from the UK and Australia have gone above and beyond their normal duties, by experimenting how the body excretes foreign bodies after they have been digested accidentally, by intentionally ingesting Lego pieces.
The experiments are to designed to combat parent’s fears when their children accidentally ingest small objects, small coins and toys for example. Much work has been achieved across the years in order to alleviate the stress caused when a child accidentally ingests a foreign object, when doctors have to ensure that such objects are passed through the body as naturally as possible without causing further anxiety to the child or their parents.
With the release of the Christmas edition of the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health fast approaching, six health-care professionals were recruited to take part in the experiment where each of the subjects had to swallow a Lego mans head. The paper’s abstract reads, “Previous gastrointestinal surgery, inability to ingest foreign objects and aversion to searching through faecal matter were all exclusion criteria.” This tongue in cheek research is presumed to be a part of the traditional “goof-around research” of the festive journal.
The pre-ingested bowel habit was identified and scored by the “Stool Hardness and Transit” (SHAT), with the primary outcome and score of “Found and Retrieved Time” (FART). Each participant timed how long it took between the digestion and when the body released the Lego head.
Results showed the average “FART” was 1.71 days with the female participants being more proficient at probing through their stools than the males, however this was not officially authenticated. It was reported that no participants or Lego pieces experienced any form of negative side effects, however, a “Do Not Try This At Home” warning was put in place.
The serious side of the experiment resulted in researchers concluding that foreign objects pass faster in an immature gut, and that it highlighted that if foreign objects are swallowed by small children, parents can be reassured that health care professionals are at the top of their game should it occur,and that it would pass naturally through a child’s digestive system with no issues, without having to search through each individual faeces – unless it’s a valued item that needs rescuing.
Some believe that the participants of this experiment weren’t as adventurous as they could have been and made it easy on themselves by using such small parts. Perhaps the experiment would have been more eventful if they had tried to swallow and pass a standard 4×2 brick. Now that would have given them a good write up.
Mars InSight probe gets down to business
Stunning photographs and images of Mars’ surface have been received back on Earth at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, following InSight, Nasa’s new Mars lander. Images of the dusty red surface were well received following the end InSight’s problematic seven month journey from the Earth.
Even after the difficulties InSight faced when approaching and entering Mars’ atmosphere, the device remained intact and operable. The first image was taken following InSight’s successfully deploying its solar panels, allowing its onboard batteries to be charged. The images were relayed through the Mars Odyssey orbiter that drifts slowly around the planet, acting as a relay to send signals and data back to Earth.
The research and project team are now able to rest easy, knowing that InSight has successfully reached its destination and successfully started its mission. Insight’s purpose-built robotic arm houses a camera. Over the next few months the mission team are expecting more images to be relayed back to Earth. The images will be used to identify locations where engineers will instruct the lander to install scientific instruments that will be used to retrieve data in two to three months’ time.
InSight landed on Mars, following what was described by a JPL spokesperson as “7 minutes of terror”, where it experienced a complicated landing phase when travelling through Mars’ thin atmosphere at a speed of 13,200mph, with little atmospheric friction to reduce its speed.
NASA’s $814 million mission’s aim is to examine how Mars was formed. Investigations of its structure, core, crust and mantle will be undertaken during a two-year period. InSight’s mission is the first successful attempt to reach the Red Planet in six years, arriving at the area known as the Elysium Planitia, North of the Martian equator, an area that has been described as an area ideal for this current mission due to its rockless flat surface. Records show that only 40% of attempts to reach Mars have been successful, with the US being the most successful nation in terms of getting to the Red Planet in one piece and operational.
InSight’s instruments including 3 UK-made seismometers which have been part of a £4 million project to measure seismic waves. Teams from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford have been involved in the project, will soon be based in California at the JPL, to aid, study and oversee the received data including locating the best zones to place the seismometers.
Sue Horne, the Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency was relieved to hear of InSight’s eventual safe landing. “The UK scientists and engineers involved in this mission have committed several years of their lives to building the seismometer on board, and the descent is always a worrying time.”
Mars has a habit of killing probes, leading some to jokingly suggest that Martian have been taking them out. Horne is excited about the information the mission will provide. “We can now look forward to the deployment of the instrument and the data that will start to arrive in the new year, to improve our understanding of how the planet formed.”
Following the first of the part of the mission, a second probe will start to burrow its way 5 meters into the surface in a bid to measure the planets temperature, with a third device being used to investigate how Mars trembles on its axis.
The answer is blowing in the wind
A new renewable energy record has been set in the aftermath of Storm Diana, which recently caused major travel chaos recently across the UK. Electricity supplied by UK based windfarms produced 14.9 Gigawatts of electricity between 6pm and 6.30pm on the 28th November, beating the previous 14.5 Gigawatts record.
The figure follows the official opening of EOn’s Rampion windfarm based on the South Coast of England near Brighton. The windfarm is the first to be opened in the English Channel and can provide energy to approximately 350,000 homes.
The recent windy conditions have also helped maintain regular output throughout the last week with reports that 100s of wind turbines across the UK added significant secondary input to the primary source of power across the UK during the last week of November according to the National Grid. In fact the output figures surpassed that of gas power stations, which are normally the biggest supply source. Wind output was 32.2%, compared to gas which was 23.5%. The success of windfarming continues to grow – it was only a decade ago that they provided just 2% of power provision to the grid.
Further windfarm schemes are in the wings, with a further 588 Megawatt windfarm to become fully operational during 2019 in the Moray Firth, and another next year predicted to generate 1,218 Megawatts in a project off East Yorkshire, which has already received the title of the “world’s largest windfarm”.
Currently the UK homes four large offshore windfarms. Including Rampion, there is a 92 Megawatt site in Aberdeen Bay, a 353 Megawatt site off the Suffolk coast, and a 659 Megawatt field off Cumbria (currently the world’s biggest). The Executive Director of the Industry Body, Renewable UK, Emma Pinchbeck was ebullient about the record. “It’s great to see British wind power setting new records at one of the coldest, darkest, wettest times of the year.”
Windfarms based on land are more powerful and cheaper to those offshore, however the government have blocked future contenders to invest.