The greatest long-term threats facing humanity

Can we actually say anything about the far future? If we can’t predict when it will rain next month, forecasting billions of years hence might seem impossible.

However, not everything is as chaotic as the weather: even predictions very far ahead are sometimes possible, especially in astrophysics and cosmology. We can be confident that there will be a total solar eclipse in the UK on 23 September 2090 because the Moon, Sun and Earth move in stable, predictable orbits with very minor disturbances, and the laws of gravity are now well-tested. Similarly, we can use known astrophysics to predict what will likely happen across the Universe as it expands.

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Great Pacific Garbage Patch

“…For many people, the idea of a “garbage patch” conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are almost entirely made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics. Microplastics can’t always be seen by the naked eye. Even satellite imagery doesn’t show a giant patch of garbage. The microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can simply make the water look like a cloudy soup. This soup is intermixed with larger items, such as fishing gear and shoes.”

 
Read the entire article on National Geographic

Marsquakes Rock and Roll

Fifty years after Apollo 11 astronauts deployed the first seismometer on the surface of the Moon, NASA InSight’s seismic experiment transmits data giving researchers the opportunity to compare marsquakes to moon and earthquakes.

Seismologists operating the Marsquake Service at ETH Zurich literally rocked and rolled as they experienced, for the first time, two “marsquakes” in the university’s quake simulator. Researchers uploaded actual data from marsquakes detected on Martian solar day or Sol 128 and 173.The marsquakes were detected by the SEIS seismometer, whose highly sensitive electronics were delivered by the Aerospace Electronics and Instruments laboratory at ETH. Continue reading  

Columbia Goes to the Moon

Fifty years ago, when astronauts first landed on the moon, they carried not only humanity’s highest hopes but an important experiment from Columbia.

On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, Gary Latham ’65GSAS, a thirty-three-year-old geophysicist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, arrived at NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in Houston to witness the fulfillment of thousands of years of curiosity and wonder: humanity’s first attempt to land men on the moon…

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Death bed

05_Passaggio KTMany are aware that dinosaurs disappeared nearly 66 million years ago, after a major climate change that made their environments inhospitable. Most people know about the dinosaurs disappearance, but few know that what happened at the end of the Mesozoic era was actually a mass extinction. Well, maybe even fewer people know that some clues of what happened in that period have been first found in central Italy, close to Saint Francis’ hometown, near a small city in the Apennines called Gubbio. The story is about father and son, Louis Alvarez, a Nobel prize physicist, and Walter Alvarez, a renown American geologist at Berkeley with a love for Italy.

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The geology of Rome’s sampietrini

What’s so special about the “sampietrini”, those little square bricks typical of Rome’s old roads? The sampietrini have been used since the times of pope Sixtus V in the late 1500s but the name was invented later in 1725 after the new paving project of St. Peter’s square. “Hard as a sampietrino” is a common expression in Rome. Sampietrini are made of a hard and heavy volcanic rock. It is very interesting to a geologist: at first sight, you might confuse it with basalt; well, maybe a special kind of basalt. Actually, it is not correct to call it basalt. It is a rather rare rock around the world, but not in the Mediterranean area. But everything would be clearer if we knew more about the basalts themselves…

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Ho scoperto di essere un criminale!

photoIo un criminale? Mah… in realtà faccio il geologo, ho lavorato anche come rilevatore, in contatto con la natura, ho fatto un po’ di ricerca all’università, mi sono sempre considerato un ambientalista (magari tenendo in considerazione che anch’io guido la macchina, uso energia, ecc.). Ora sono in una piccola azienda che si occupa di esplorazione e ricerca di idrocarburi. Ma forse non dovrei dirlo in giro…

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