'Plastic island' in Pacific now twice the size of Texas

It's a dubious honor, but humanity has managed to amass a giant trash mass about twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France, or about 1,600 miles.

'Plastic island' in Pacific now twice the size of Texas

It's a dubious honor, but humanity has managed to amass a giant trash mass about twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France, or about 1,600 miles. 


The actual area itself is hard to measure, due to several factors. First, the trash itself isn't exactly the kind of thing you could walk over — it's more like a "trash soup" according to the Smithsonian. Compacted, by at least one estimate, it would be approximately 234 square miles, or roughly the size of the city of Chicago. But since the make-up of the island is comprised of so many items, the area of the vortex itself manages to spread out about twice the size of Texas, or 3x the size of France. 

There are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic (mostly broken-up pieces of shopping bags), which account for 94% of the trash yet only about 8% of the actual mass itself. The biggest culprit appears to be discarded fishing nets, which make up about half of the mass, and 20% of the remaining amount is debris directly from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake off of the coast of Japan. 

 

But we may never know exactly how big the trash patch is, unfortunately, because we don't know how deep the trash patch goes. It's massive, and environmentalists are worried that it will only get bigger. At our current rate of consumption and trash accumulation, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch could become 3x bigger in just three decades. That's a lot of plastic. And considering how much the fish in the Pacific are eating the plastic, it's only a matter of time until it makes its way up the food chain to us and affects humans. After all, 93% of Americans have detectable levels of bisphenol A in their bloodstreams. That percecntage, and the amount of plastic, is only going to grow. 

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China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

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

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

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