Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Japan has historically been at the forefront of nuclear power, with more nuclear power plants and a higher nuclear energy output than almost any other country. However, ever since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, the country has decided to wean itself off of nuclear power in favor of other alternative energy sources, the most promising of which is solar energy.
The island nation has a land area of around 146,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of the state of Montana. However, whereas Montana is only home to about 1 million people, Japan is home to more than 128 million. With all of those people squeezed together there’s not very much space available, so where can Japan’s ambitious solar energy projects be built? Well, according to Kyocera and Century Tokyo Leasing, they can be built on the water.
The two companies have joined forces to build a couple of massive solar power islands which will float on two reservoirs and generate somewhere around 2.9 megawatts of clean energy. The combined capacity of the two power plants would be enough to power anywhere between 483 and 967 American households. Work on this project is set to begin in September, with a target finish date of April 2015.
One of the “water-mounted mega solar power plants” will float on the surface of Nishihira pond and will generate about 1.7 megawatts of energy, which would make it the world’s largest floating solar plant. The second floating solar power plant will be built on Dongping pond, and will generate about 1.2 megawatts of clean energy.
Read more about the story at The Ecologist.
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A collaborative investigation of a fragment of a 1.3 billion-year-old Martian meteorite by scientists from the United Kingdom and Greece has brought forth more information that suggests that the Red Planet may have been habitable at some point.
Doctor Elias Chatzitheodoridis of the National Technical University of Athens found an unusual feature embedded within the fragment, known as Nakhla, and they found a “cell-like” structure, which investigators now know once held water.
Professor Lyon, based in Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric, and Environmental Sciences, said that this resembles a fossilized biological cell from Earth in several ways but it was intriguing because it was undoubtedly from Mars.
“Our research found that it probably wasn’t a cell but that it did once hold water – water that had been heated, probably as a result of an asteroid impact,” said Professor Lyon. “It’s not too cold, it’s not too harsh. Life as we know it, in the form of bacteria, for example, could be there, although we haven’t found it yet. It’s about piecing together the case for life on Mars – it may have existed and in some form could exist still.”
Read more about the story at IFL Science.
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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has improved its cheetah-like robot by enabling it to jump and run around outside without being tethered. MIT researchers are continuing to upgrade the robot and improve its skills. The robo-cheetah has come a long way since its first treadmill test, during which it was tethered up.
MIT released a demonstration video of the robo-cheetah running across an open field and then bounding upwards to show off its new jumping skills. This is all thanks to a new algorithm that the researchers have developed which allows the robo-cheetah to run around while navigating the terrain of the open field without being tethered.
Sangbae Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, compares the electric motors of the cheetah-bot to other heavier, louder quadruped robots that use gasoline motors. “Our robot can be silent and as efficient as animals. The only things you hear are the feet hitting the ground,” he told MIT News. “This is kind of a new paradigm where we’re controlling force in a highly dynamic situation. Any legged robot should be able to do this in the future.”
Read more about the story at Discovery.
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Numerous drinking-water wells across the country have been contaminated by natural gas in recent years, and many people have blamed hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. However, a new paper which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday suggests that fracking may not be the cause.
A team of researchers at Duke University, Stanford University, Dartmouth University, and the University of Rochester recently devised a new method of geochemical forensics to trace how methane migrates under the earth. The study identified eight collections of drinking-water wells that had been contaminated by natural gas in Pennsylvania and Texas.
What the team found was that neither horizontal drilling nor hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits in the area seemed to have caused any of the natural gas contamination. Rather, the contaminations seem to be cause by poorly built and cemented gas wells, rather than the process of fracking itself.
“There is no question that in many instances elevated levels of natural gas are naturally occurring, but in a subset of cases, there is also clear evidence that there were human causes for the contamination,” said study leader Thomas Darrah, assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State. “However our data suggests that where contamination occurs, it was caused by poor casing and cementing in the wells,” Darrah said.
Read more about the story at The New York Times.
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Japan’s intentions to resume hunting whales in the Antarctic, despite a ruling by the top United Nations court, was at the top of the agenda of an international whaling conference that opened on Monday in the Adriatic Sea resort Portoroz, Slovenia.
The international ban on whaling that was put in place in 1986 had small allowance for whaling that was done for research purposes. Japan has insisted that the hunts that it is conducting, which will likely lead the slaughter of hundreds of whales, will be done on that basis.
However, back in March, it was ruled by the International Court of Justice that Japan’s program produced little in the way of actual research, and therefore was not scientific. Japan also drew criticism for failing to explain why it needed to slaughter so many whales.
While Japan doesn’t need approval from the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee to continue whaling, any attempt to resume whaling in the Antarctic after a one-year pause would likely face intense scrutiny from countries across the globe.
Australia and New Zealand, both of whom are close to the waters that Japanese whalers have been active in, are especially against the resumption of whaling. Australia’s environment minister, Greg Hunt, has reiterated his government’s opposition to whaling, and has used the international conference in Slovenia to fight off any attempt by Japan to resume whaling.
“Australia’s opposition to all forms of commercial whaling remains unchanged,” Hunt told the meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia. “Australia is of the view that lethal scientific research is not necessary. All information necessary for the contemporary conservation and management of whales can be obtained non-lethally. The commission’s southern ocean research partnership is delivering valuable, best-practice, non-lethal whale research and demonstrates that whales do not need to be killed in the name of science.”
Read more about the story at The Huffington Post.
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