Rediscovered Apollo data gives first measure of how fast Moon dust piles up

American Geophysical Union, November 2013

When Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first otherworldly steps in 1969, he didn’t know what a nuisance the lunar soil beneath his feet would prove to be. The scratchy dust clung to everything it touched, causing scientific instruments to overheat and, for Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, a sort of lunar dust hay fever. The annoying particles even prompted a scientific experiment to figure out how fast they collect, but NASA’s data got lost.

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Making Martian clouds on Earth

American Geophysical Union, October 2013

If you want to understand the atmosphere of a planet, it helps to think big. That’s just what climate scientist Dan Cziczo and his colleagues did recently when they created conditions in the world’s largest cloud chamber mimicking those in the thin veil of gases that surrounds Mars.

The National Academies Contemplate Geoengineering

American Geophysical Union, September 2013

The ideas seem lifted from a James Bond super villain’s dastardly plot: carpeting the Earth with whitened clouds, constructing giant solar reflectors in space, using chemicals to change the makeup of the atmosphere. But with scientific models predicting potentially devastating changes in the world’s climate, seemingly impractical and improbable geoengineering solutions become more and more alluring.

Martian chemical complicates hunt for life’s clues

American Geophysical Union, September 2013

The quest for evidence of life on Mars could be more difficult than scientists previously thought. A scientific paper published today details the investigation of a chemical in the Martian soil that interferes with the techniques used by the Curiosity rover to test for traces of life. The chemical causes the evidence to burn away during the tests.

Upgrade to Mars rovers could aid discovery on more distant worlds

American Geophysical Union, September 2013

Smart as the Mars Curiosity mission has been about landing and finding its own way on a distant world, the rover is pretty brainless when it comes to doing the science that it was sent 567 million kilometers to carry out. That has to change if future rover missions are to make discoveries further out in the solar system, scientists say. The change has now begun with the development of a new camera that can do more than just take pictures of alien rocks – it also thinks about what the pictures signify so the rover can decide on its own whether to keep exploring a particular site, or move on.

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Crowdsourcing weather using smartphone batteries

American Geophysical Union, August 2013

Smartphones are a great way to check in on the latest weather predictions, but new research aims to use the batteries in those same smartphones to predict the weather. A group of smartphone app developers and weather experts created a way to use the temperature sensors built into smartphone batteries to crowdsource weather information. These tiny thermometers usually prevent smartphones from dangerously overheating, but the researchers discovered the battery temperatures tell a story about the environment around them.

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Ozone hole might slightly warm planet

American Geophysical Union, August 2013

A lot of people mix up the ozone hole and global warming, believing the hole is a major cause of the world’s increasing average temperature. Scientists, on the other hand, have long attributed a small cooling effect to the ozone shortage in the hole. Now a new computer-modeling study suggests that the ozone hole might actually have a slight warming influence, but because of its effect on winds, not temperatures. The new research suggests that shifting wind patterns caused by the ozone hole push clouds farther toward the South Pole, reducing the amount of radiation the clouds reflect and possibly causing a bit of warming rather than cooling.

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Busy beavers capture carbon

American Geophysical Union, July 2013

A few environmental problem-solvers have proposed drawing carbon out of the air and burying it to reduce greenhouse gasses and curb climate change. Maybe they could take some tips from nature’s own geoengineers – beavers – which have been sequestering carbon for thousands of years in the ponds and meadows created by their dams. A new study finds that, due to decreasing populations, much less carbon is getting tucked away by beavers than in the past.

Distorted GPS signals reveal hurricane wind speeds

American Geophysical Union, July 2013

By pinpointing locations on Earth from space, GPS systems have long shown drivers the shortest route home and guided airline pilots across oceans. Now, by figuring out how messed up GPS satellite signals get when bouncing around in a storm, researchers have found a way to do something completely different with GPS: measure and map the wind speeds of hurricanes.

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