Interstellar space—the region between stars in our galaxy—is fairly empty. There are still enough atoms in that space to produce a measurable effect as the Sun orbits the galactic center, however. The flow of these atoms, known as the interstellar wind, provides a way to study interstellar gas, which moves independently of the Sun’s motion.
A new analysis of 40 years of data showed that the interstellar wind has changed direction and speed over time, demonstrating that the environment surrounding the Solar System changes measurably as well. Priscilla Frisch and colleagues compared the results from several spacecraft, both in Earth orbit and interplanetary probes. The different positions and times in which these instruments operated revealed that the interstellar wind has increased slightly in speed. Additional measurements revealed that the flow of atoms has shifted somewhere between 4.4 degrees and 9.2 degrees. Both these results indicate that the Sun is traveling through a changing environment, perhaps one shaped by turbulence in interstellar space.
The properties of the Solar System are dominated by the Sun’s gravity, magnetic field, and the flow of charged particles outward from its surface. However, a small number of electrically neutral particles—mostly light atoms—pass through the Solar System. These particles are part of the local interstellar cloud (LIC), a relatively hot region of space governed by its internal processes.
Neutral helium is the most useful product of the interstellar wind flowing through the Solar System. Helium is abundant, comprising roughly 25 percent of all interstellar atoms. In its electrically neutral form, helium is largely unaffected by magnetic fields, both from the Sun and within the LIC. The present study also considered neutral oxygen and nitrogen atoms, which are far less abundant, but more massive and therefore less strongly jostled even than helium.
For the past decade or so, we here at NPR have been waiting for the Voyager 1 spacecraft to leave the solar system. So we were shocked to see new research suggesting it already had, over a year ago.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. It kept on going. Today it’s billions of miles from the earth, and scientists have been predicting it will soon leave the solar system. NPR has been on Voyager watch since at least 2003, when longtime science correspondent Richard Harris provided this warning of Voyager’s impending departure.
But now Marc Swisdak, a physicist at the University of Maryland, says the spacecraft may have already left. “Late July 2012 is when we think it [left],” Swisdak says.
How did we miss that? As it turns out, it wasn’t entirely our fault. Researchers thought the solar system was surrounded by a clearly marked magnetic field bubble.
I was just poking around looking for the cost to buy solar panels for my house and ran accross an interesting article. In Germany it is far cheaper to install solar panels than it is in the US.
In 2011, residential solar system installers paid a little over $1.80 per watt for solar panels in both Germany and the United States. In Germany, installers added $1.20 to the cost of the solar panel to complete an installation. But in the U.S., they tacked on $4.36 per watt, more than three times as much
That’s right, the panels cost the same, the installation is where the difference is.
There are a number of things going on, and the article makes for an interesting read. But one bit is that in the US companies spend 10 times as much to find customers. For what I read as red tape, Germans pay 3 cents a watt, Americans pay 20 cents a watt!
A new way of manufacturing printable organic solar cells could eventually lead to new kinds of low-cost, cheap, and flexible solar panels.
The work is being led by Alan Heeger, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Guillermo Bazan in 2000 for developing the kind of conductive polymers that are already used to make plastic solar cells and organic light-emitting diodes. Both Heeger and Bazan are professors of chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Polymer solar cells are inefficient compared to silicon solar cells, but they are much cheaper to make. Organic materials—whether made of polymers or so-called “small molecules,” which are organic compounds with a low molecular weight—can be made into inks and printed over large areas. They’re also lightweight and flexible, which makes them promising for applications like rooftop installations or solar-cell patches for charging portable electronics.
Using a new small molecule designed by Bazan, Heeger built a solar cell that converts 6.7 percent of the light energy that strikes it into electricity. Bazan expects to reach 9 percent efficiency within a year. Although efficiencies in lab tests tend to be much greater than those in a manufactured cell, this would put these materials on par with the best polymer solar cells on the market.
Until now, most efforts to improve the performance and cost of organic solar cells have focused on developing new polymer materials.
Bazan used a combination of theory and trial-and-error to develop the new small molecule material. He started by optimizing its electrical properties, so that the molecule would be able to support the high current and voltage needed to get power out of a solar cell. It’s especially tricky to create a small-molecule material that makes a good film; while polymers are long and get tangled into a stable film, small molecules don’t tend to make the kind of planar films needed to make a layer in a solar cell.
If this were the early part of last century today’s Tea Partiers would be backing the ice industry and their delivery trucks against the infant refrigerator industry. If we don’t create the industry here, we will go from superpower and cultural center to a second tier tired nation of reactionary luddites.
I thought “I apologize to BP” was the bottom, but there just seems to be no lower limit to the abject toadyism of the Tea Party congress around the issue of energy. Make it oil, make it coal, make it dirty, or don’t make it at all, seems to be the motto.
For nearly a year now, President Obama has pushed the line that the United States has to be prepared to “out-innovate, out-build, and out-compete” the rest of the world in the 21st century. Republicans have generally been hostile to such a proposition, largely because innovation and building requires investments they’re unwilling to make.
GOP officials are loath to admit it, but keeping the United States in a global leadership position in areas of technology and innovation simply isn’t a high priority. If Americans fall behind in global competition, for much of the right, it doesn’t much matter — so long as the wealthy aren’t paying more in taxes.
It’s what makes comments like these stand out as noteworthy.
Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs an energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, originally supported the [Department of Energy’s loan-guarantees program for clean energy] when Congress created it.
Now he says, “I think the administration is putting taxpayers’ money at risk in areas that are not creating jobs.” […]
“We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines,” Stearns says.
Some of the key findings:
252 megawatts (MW) of grid-connected photovoltaics (PV) were added in the 1st quarter of 2011.
That is a 66% growth over 1st quarter 2010 installations.
Cumulative grid-connected solar electric installations grew to 2.85 gigawatts (GW) in the 1st quarter of 2011. To put that into useful perspective for most of us, that is enough power for ~600,000 U.S. homes.
The 3 PV market sectors (residential, commercial, and utility) all grew, but commercial installations grew the most.
Continually dropping solar equipment costs and a rush to take advantage of Section 1603 Treasury program incentives (previously anticipated to expire at the end of 2010 but now extended through the end of 2011) were the major factors spurring on rapid growth across the solar energy market.
7 of the 21 states analyzed accounted for 88% of solar energy growth (compared to 82% of growth in the 1st quarter of 2010), indicating the clear importance and superiority of certain state policies and programs. (See more on that in the chart above and the charts below.)
Con Edison Development and Panda Power Funds started construction on a 20-megawatt solar electric generating station in Pilesgrove, NJ last week. This solar farm will be able to power over 5,100 homes and will be the largest solar farm in the northeastern U.S. upon completion.
By rigging large pieces of cloth atop boats, early explorers harnessed the wind to voyage across oceans. Now, modern space explorers want to use sails to send spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond. These sails will be made of large, ultra-thin gossamer plastic sheets that, instead of wind, will be propelled using sunlight.
Light particles, or photons, exert a small pressure when they bounce off a reflective surface. Ever since James Maxwell proved that light exerts pressure in the 1860s, space exploration visionaries have talked about solar sailing. Exciting new developments this year are making their vision a reality.
In May, the Japanese Space Exploration Agency successfully launched IKAROS, the first-ever spacecraft to use solar sail for propulsion in space. The spacecraft finished unfurling its sail in June and is now accelerating toward Venus under solar pressure. Two more solar sail launches are on the horizon: NASA plans to launch a sail this fall, while the Planetary Society is aiming for a launch in 2011.
It looks like there is going to be a resurgence in the creation of new nuclear energy plants over the next few years. That’s good news of course, but that news is made even more welcome because many of the new plants will be Gen III with at least 3 being Gen IV.
The bastion of atomic energy over the next two decades will be Generation III reactors, despite the enormous medium- to long-term promise of Generation IV (as I recently explained, here). This is not idle speculation -– it is already happening in the world’s fastest-growing economies. At the time of writing this blog post, over 65 of these modern nuclear reactors are under construction (or nearly so). Twenty-three new nuclear power plants are being built in China alone, which is targeting 70 gigawatts of extra nuclear power by 2020. In addition, there are serious plans in China for two sodium-cooled fast reactors (BN-800) of the “Generation IV” design, following the completion of the first Russian unit in 2012 — the sort of reactor that some people think ‘don’t exist’.
It’s nice to see some good news from the AGW front.