Take a look at Esieh Lake, the stuff of climate change nightmares

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Take a look at Esieh Lake, the stuff of climate change nightmares
From the Twitter feed of Chris Mooney
  • Esieh Lake is in a part of Alaska that's in the Arctic Circle.
  • Each day the lake emits methane at a rate equivalent to about 6,000 cows.
  • If more like it are found, it could be an ominous warning of things to come.


Melting permafrost. 

"The lake, about 20 football fields in size, looked as if it was boiling. Its waters hissed, bubbled and popped as a powerful greenhouse gas escaped from the lake bed. Some bubbles grew as big as grapefruits, visibly lifting the water's surface several inches and carrying up bits of mud from below."

That's the terrifying description journalist Chris Mooney gave of Esieh Lake in Alaska. What, exactly, is it describing? Melting permafrost.

As in, ice and frozen soil deep down that has never thawed, hence the term 'perma'.

The concern is this: If Esieh Lake exists, then surely others do, too. And if the permafrost beneath and around other lakes is thawing like it is here, then the resultant carbon dioxide and methane will create what climate scientists refer to as a "feedback loop." That is, the gases emitted as the formerly frozen organic and plant matter are broken down make global warming worse. They dramatically speed up the entire, terrifying process, causing even more permafrost to melt. Rinse, repeat.

There are already a number of "thermokarst" lakes in the Arctic permafrost that are spewing methane, but this one is the biggest yet. Each day it emits methane at a rate equivalent to about 6,000 cows.

The scientist who discovered Esieh Lake, Katey Walter Anthony, has studied 300 lakes that are emitting gasses like this, but the sheer size of Esieh really took her by surprise. In fact, she even thought it might explode.

Losing the permafrost even affects what Native peoples have used for generations as an "Eskimo freezer" — burying fresh meat and other foods under the permafrost to store them and keep them frozen until they're ready to use. Much of those can't be used the same way any more, because they're thawing.

Here's the scientist who discovered Esieh setting fire to methane 10 years ago on a lake she and her team found back then.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

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