Alternative Energy and Space News

May 27, 2009 0 Comments

At one point a few days ago, the rain chances for Tuesday and Wednesday looked rather iffy and I was getting depressed about the thought of constantly spending time watering my gardens and plants. The nice steady rain of yesterday and today have brought a smile to my face, as mentioned yesterday. Ray commented (see comments section, and feel free to leave your own) that rainy weather often means cool weather. It is interesting that the last 2 years have been drier than normal with more sunny days than average, and yet temps have been a bit below normal during the last two summers. Can you imagine how cool our summers would have been if we had received normal or above normal rainfall? Speaking of cool weather, it looks like temps will average a couple degrees below normal through early next week with high temps generally in the 65 to 70 range.

The rain will continue for most of the area today. Some locations in central Wisconsin could pick up an inch or so. At the time of this writing Wausau had already picked up a half inch, Wisconsin Rapids had about 0.80 inches, and Stevens Point already measured about 1.30 inches. The only locations that will miss out on the steady rain will be the far north around highway 70. Park Falls, Butternut, Springstead, and Mercer will likely only receive some drizzle or sprinkles. The rain will taper off tonight and then the next chance of significant precipitation will be Sunday evening when some thunderstorms could develop. The rain is melting some of the snow on Rib Mountain but it still looks like it will last a couple more days – so no winners yet in the snowmelt contest.

Alternative Energy News:

This has been a hot topic as of late and I am definitely getting more behind “electrification” of the economy. Even though there are a lot of reasons to support electric transportation as the heir to liquid hydrocarbons, there is a big government-industrial complex that has built up around ethanol and hydrogen. Bio-fuels do have some uses but funding is drying up and some ethanol producers are starting to go bankrupt. Hydrogen fuel cells still have some momentum but the case for using hydrogen in transportation is a tough one. First and foremost and entire new infrastructure has to be built across the entire continent. It just isn’t feasible. Most of the distribution and manufacturing capability for electric transportation is already in place. In any case, hydrogen fuel cells could still find very important use in helping to develop clean energy. Wind and solar energy is intermittent. Fuel cells could be one of the best ways to store electricity from these sources during peak times and release that energy during down times. So here are some recent developments on the hydrogen front:

An interview with energy secretary Chu where he dismisses the case for hydrogen-based transportation (and also talks about nuclear power plants)

Material with record high surface area could store a lot more hydrogen.

New metal substance could split water into oxygen and hydrogen more efficiently.

In a somewhat related story, the city of Seattle has found that plug-in hybrids are not doing as well on fuel efficiencyas originally hoped. Their fleet is averaging 51 mpg. They expected to achieve nearly 100 mpg. The unexpected low efficiency has to do with “real world” driving situations. What works in the “lab” does not always work in the street. People might not plug them in as often as they should, or they might not drive with fuel efficiency in mind.

Also, a little article on what an electric car fleet mightlook like. You have probably seen many of the pictures before in this blog.

Lastly, Tesla is more likely to survive the economic downturn after Daimler bought a 10% stake in the company.

Space News:

Is anyone else amazed at how long the Rovers have lasted on Mars? They have been going over 5 years now. Some problems related to “wear and tear” have been cropping up, but both Rovers are still functional. Spirit’s latest trouble is getting stuck in sand. Mission controllers think it might have gotten stuck deep enough to actually bottom out. The “belly” of the rover might be resting on sand, which would be a tough situation to get out of. Engineers are busy working with an analogue rover here on earth trying to simulate the conditions on Mars. They hope to devise a method for Spirit to get moving again. Opportunity is not stuck, in fact it has just passed the 10 mile mark on its odometer. Even though it is moving, it still has more than a year to go before reaching its next target crater. One thing I think the Rover designers should think about with the next robots to travel to Mars is a “fast” mode. It shouldn’t take a year to travel a couple miles, especially when the rover is traveling through a flat desert like Opportunity is.

Every once in a while I take a look at the raw images of the rovers (see here), just to see how the landscape differs as they move to new areas of the planet. Here is one picture I viewed today.

Opportunity Navigation Camera Image

Opportunity Navigation Camera Image

 Another nice shot of the desolation in the area called Meridiani Planum where Opportunity is exploring. The interesting part of the photograph is the little white streak in the upper left hand corner. (direct link to large image here) If this was a photo on earth you would immediately think it was a jet contrail. Or if it was night-time someone might suggest it was a meteorite (falling star). I am not sure what to make of it, since it is on Mars. My best guess is that it is an artifact of the camera lens. Maybe a glint of light or a reflection. I suppose a meteorite or asteroid cannot be ruled out. Interesting none-the-less.

In another exciting development, more testing of robotic underwater probes is occurring in Antarctica. Back in 2008 a prototype was tested right here in Wisconsin at lake Mendota during the middle of winter. Thes tests are occurring in preparation for a future trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Under the icy crust of Europa is a potential spot for life in the solar system.

Have a nice Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

About the Author:

Leave a Reply