Scientists have been working on a hypothesis which suggests that the majority of stars are formed in a binary system, meaning there would be more than one star.
Researchers from the UC Berkeley and the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory have been studying a dust cloud in the Perseus constellation, and concluded that the ‘born together’ theory is probably correct.
UC Berkeley astronomer Steven Stahler said: “We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries.”
The research, as part of the VLA nascent disk and multiplicity (VANDAM) survey, shows twin stars separated by 500 astronomical units or over are ‘Class 0’.
The star could be responsible for major extinction events
One astronomical unit is the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
Class 1 star systems are closer, at about 200 AU from each other.
The giant ball of fire at the centre of our solar system would be no exception, researchers say, and that it’s twin, which has been dubbed ‘Nemesis’, could be responsible for mass-extinction events throughout history.
Our sun would likely be part of a Class 0 system, which would explain why we can’t see its twin.
The ‘born together’ theory could fit with a devastating hypothesis suggested 23 years ago by another UC Berkley astronomer, Richard Muller.
Mr Muller came up with the idea there was a red-dwarf star on an egg-shaped orbit which travels from our solar system, into the depths of space and back again every 27 million years, with its gravitational pull bringing back the likes of asteroid.
As the other star travels through our solar system, asteroids clash with planets. This, Mr Fuller says, could be the reason why there are extinction events every 27 million years – including the one which wiped out the dinosaurs.
Mr Stahler says this could be the case, but that Nemesis is likely gone by now.
He said: “We are saying, yes, there probably was a Nemesis, a long time ago.”
The Nemesis theory has been around for a while, so the MSM’s “shock” claim may be a bit OTT (Even inspired a couple of popular songs). Of course “Nemesis” has never been found, hence the revised claim that our “evil twin” sun has since departed the solar system. So does that mean the end of mass extinction events? Is that what these scientists are saying? No doubt Nibiru believers will disagree (Nibiru has been “imminent” for an awfully long time now, fuelling my scepticism!). Personally I’d say this is one of many valid theories about the mechanism for mass extinction, and we aren’t out of the woods by any means.
The earliest known existence of modern humans, or Homo sapiens, was previously dated to be around 200,000 years ago. It’s a view supported by genetic analysis and dated Homo sapiens fossils (Omo Kibish, estimated age 195,000 years, and Herto, estimated age 160,000 years), both found in modern-day Ethiopia, East Africa.
But new research, published today in two Nature papers, offers a fresh perspective. The latest studies suggest that Homo sapiens spread across the entire African continent more than 100,000 years earlier than previously thought.
This evidence pushes back the origins of our species to 300,000 years ago, and supports the idea that important changes in our biology and behaviour had already taken place across most of Africa by that time.
Our work focused on samples collected at the archaeological site Jebel Irhoud in Morocco. It’s a place that is well known for hominin fossils – that is, bones from early humans – first excavated in the 1960s.
However, the interpretation of the first fossils and identification of their age was compromised previously, due to uncertainty about the geological dating of the sediment layers in which the remains had been found.
More than 40 years later, in 2004, an international team of scientists reopened the excavation. They discovered 16 new Homo sapiens fossils and a large number of Middle Stone Age artefacts. Now in 2017 we’re able to report on these remains thanks to improved dating techniques.
The new analysis proposes a revised version of the evolutionary history of modern humans that involves the entire African continent, and long before the “out-of-Africa” spread of Homo sapiens to other continents (dated at around 100,000 years ago).
Jebel Irhoud is the richest African Middle Stone Age site associated with the earliest known representative of our species.
Bones with modern and ancient features
The fossil remains excavated included numerous skulls and jawbones, long bones such as femur (from the leg) and humerus (from the arm), and teeth of several individuals. They reveal a mixture of modern human and more archaic, or ancient, features.
Of particular note is the slim, “gracile” face seen in living humans, which is also present in Jebel Irhoud specimens. Compared with the more robust face and elongated skull of Neanderthals or older hominins, the faces of Jebel Irhoud specimens are slender, relatively short, and sit under a rounder braincase (the part of the skull in which the brain sits).
However, while tomographic scans (which create 3D images through digital sectioning) reveal that the facial shape in the fossil samples is practically indistinguishable from humans nowadays, there are differences in the skull structure. In particular, the structure of the cranium, or skull bone, is different.
Compared with modern humans, in the Jebel Irhoud specimens we see a more elongated shape of the braincase, plus elongated temporal bones (on the sides of the skull, forming the temple), flatter parietal bones (along the sides and top of the skull) and different occipital shape (at the rear of the skull). This results in a longer and lower braincase.
Anatomically, this analysis places the 300,000-year-old Jebel Irhoud Homo sapiens somewhere between Homo erectus and African archaic Middle Pleistocene hominins. In this way it challenges the hypothesis that Homo sapiens derived from a later intermediate species that lead to the emergence of both the modern human and Neanderthal lineages.
These differences have implications for our understanding of Homo sapiens evolution. They suggest that our facial shape was established early in our history, whereas certain cognitive functions may have appeared later with the evolution of the Homo sapiens lineage and modifications of the braincase.
How we dated the Jebel Irhoud samples
In addition to the fossils, stone artefacts found at the Jebel Irhoud site consisted of Middle Stone Age material of Levallois technology (a distinct method of creating stone tools), with a high proportion of retouched tools, especially pointed forms.
Materials from Jebel Irhoud were accurately dated using two distinct techniques.
Thermoluminescence (TL), which works by measuring the irradiation dose received from the surrounding sediment since the material was last exposed to heat or fire, was applied to the stone artefacts.
Techniques known as Coupled Uranium-Series and Electron Spin Resonance (together referred to as US-ESR) were applied to the fossil remains directly. By calculating the diffusion of natural elements (uranium and thorium) into the dental tissues as fossilisation occurred over time, combined with the amount of surrounding radiation from the sediment the enamel crystal has been exposed to, we are able to work out the burial time of the remains.
While TL established clearly a chronology for the sediment layers which contained the hominin fossil remains, the US-ESR dates gave a direct age of one of the Jebel Irhoud jawbones (Irhoud 3 mandible). This was possible through new high-resolution radioactivity measurements of the geological context and important methodological improvements which allowed us to understand the impact of irradiation onto the tooth enamel crystal structure.
Both dating of the jaw bone and the dating of the stone artefacts gave us an age of 300,000 years.
A complex human journey
The new find is consistent with a picture of complex, Africa-wide origin of Homo sapiens.
The observed skull shapes and calculated ages of the bones and tools have implications for interpreting other human-like fossils found in Africa. The enigmatic partial skull of Florisbad from South Africa is also a very important Middle Stone age sample, and presents a mix of modern and ancient features.
Whether Florisbad should be classified as Homo heidelbergensis or Homo helmei has been a subject of prolonged debate. But with the anatomical features observed in Jebel Irhoud specimen, Florisbad skull can be more securely described as an early Homo sapiens form.
This discovery is also interesting in light of the newly dated Homo naledi from South Africa. This species, which survived until 250,000 years ago, overlaps in time with the Jebel Irhoud specimens. As Homo naledi represents a different branch of the genus Homo (not a direct ancestor to Homo sapiens), this is evidence that more archaic forms of hominins coexisted with the early representative of our species.
Similarly, Homo erectusSalé – also discovered in Morocco, not far from Jebel Irhoud – dates back to 250,000 years ago and might have coexisted with the early form of Homo sapiens, although the identification and age of the Salé specimen remains highly debated.
More than ever, as humans our complex evolutionary journey to end up as the lone surviving hominid species appears to be anything but linear. With African archaic Middle Pleistocene hominins overlapping in time with the Jebel Irhoud specimens, our discovery advocates for a complex African-wide evolutionary history of Homo sapiens. This new evidence adds more detail to the debate around the birthplace not only for our species, but also for the entire genus homo.
The famous drawing of a linear and simplistic evolution from ape-like individual morphing to an upright modern human is anything but accurate.
This work was performed by teams of scientists from around the world, including those in Australia, Germany, USA, Morocco, France, UK and Italy.
We acknowledge resources from AusSMC in preparing this article.
For anyone who has seen Ex Machina — an independent science fiction psychological thriller — the idea of transhumanism is nothing new. Ava, a humanoid robot, far exceeds expectations of what we normally associate with a machine. She displays an intelligence and adaptability to changing circumstances with the emotional sophistication of a real person — which, in turn, blurs the line between what we consider human and what we consider to be a soulless mechanical imitation. While Ava is a true robot — meaning she doesn’t possess any human material — the film depicted her in a way that was so totally adaptable to human emotions and logic, that it was easy to forget she wasn’t at least part human.
I found the timing with the release of the film in 2015 interesting — largely because, over the last five years or so, we’ve been bombarded with subtle imagery in advertising and the media of people who are half-human, half-machine. Examples can be seen in films like Transcendence, Avatar,Nexus and The Transhumanist Wager. Futurist video game developers, visual artists and techno-musicians have also jumped onto the transhumanist bandwagon in recent years, celebrating the idea of technologically upgraded human beings, who enjoy immortality and are free from all the annoying human maladies that we experience today.
Jason Silva, founder of Shots of Awe, is one of the most well-known futurists and has a large following of younger generations. Here’s one of his most popular films, viewed over a quarter of a million times on YouTube. Notice the sweeping, emotional music — as well as the quick moving imagery, which overlays photographs of humans with some form of technology. Silva also speaks with a fast, convincing and confident style.
“To Be Human Is To Be Transhuman”
These transhuman “amalgams” are portrayed as “super-humans” that will solve all our health, psychological and physical problems. Personally, I find the whole sales-pitch and movement towards transhumanism to be exceptionally disturbing. Many, however, suffer no qualms about it. In fact, they are enthusiastic supporters. One such person is Ray Kurzweil, an inventor, futurist and current director of engineering at Google.
A Brave New World of Transhumanism
In just over a three decades, we will be able to upload our entire mind into computers and become digitally immortal — a process classified as “singularity” — according to Kurzweil. He also predicts that biological parts of our body will be completely replaced with mechanical parts as early as 2100.
What exactly is singularity and where did the idea originate?
Journalist Victoria Woollaston explains in the Daily Mail:
Technological singularity is the development of ‘super-intelligence’ brought about through the use of technology.
The first use of the term ‘singularity’ refer to technological minds was by mathematician John von Neumann.
Neumann in the mid-1950s said: ‘ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.’
The term was then used by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge who believes brain-computer interfaces are causes of the singularity.
Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann’s use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann’s classic The Computer and the Brain.
Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 while Vinge predicts it will happen before 2030.
In Kurweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, he explores the journey that is leading us in the direction toward transhumanism. Recent advancements in neural engineering and brain modeling, as well as technologies that replace biological functions, will make it possible.
Already we’re seeing examples, like an implant that is attached to the brain’s cochlear nerve and elect…. Other technologies are being developed that re-establish motor skills after the nervous system has suffered damage. 3D printing is also making strides in creating human body parts, such as the prosthetic ear created at Cornell University.
Kurzweil goes on to say that “we’re going to become increasingly non-biological … [where] the biological part is not important any more.” He adds, “We do need a body, our intelligence is directed towards a body but it doesn’t have to be this frail, biological body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes.”
He believes that we will also have a variety of non-biological bodies in the future.
‘We can create bodies with nano technology, we can create virtual bodies and virtual reality in which the virtual reality will be as realistic as the actual reality. The virtual bodies will be as detailed and convincing as real bodies.
‘But in the future it’s not going to be a little picture in a virtual environment you’re looking at. It will feel like this is your body and you’re in that environment and your body is the virtual body and it can be as realistic as real reality.
‘So we’ll be routinely able to change our bodies very quickly as well as our environments. If we had radical life extension only, we would get profoundly bored and we would run out of things to do and new ideas,’ he said.
Sounds like progress. Or is it?
The Dark Side of Transhumanism
Whenever I hear about a new technology that increases longevity, I have a mixed reaction. On one side, it gives those who are struggling with life-threatening illness hope. But let’s face it, even when we’re in the prime of health, our attena perk up whenever we hear about any discovery that might extend our health and lengthen our lives. On the other side, I feel that all the advancements in medicine over the last hundred years or so have contributed to many of the problems facing humanity today, mainly because of overpopulation. However, when we venture into the realm of transhumanism — which has the potential to extend human life indefinitely — we open a whole new Pandora’s box of ethical questions.
Transhumanism: a Pandora’s box of ethical questions.
Kyle Munkittrick, Program Director for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, gives us some good food for thought to mull over before we race headlong into a transhumanist future:
Then there is the question of overpopulation. Already there are 6.7 billion of us, “ever-hungry and all want SUV’s and flat screens and will do whatever it takes to man or beast to get them … and are stripping the earth”, according to Munkittrick.
Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York, agrees.
“There are several problems with the pursuit of immortality, one of which is particularly obvious. If we all live (much, much) longer, we all consume more resources and have more children, leading to even more overpopulation and environmental degradation,” he said. “We simply don’t have space, water and other prime materials to feed a forever exponentially increasing population [regardless of the advances in agricultural technology].”
For myself, as someone who has delved deeply into Buddhism for almost two decades, I can’t help but believe transhumanism is nothing more than a way to deny what it means to be human: birth, aging, death. Think about all the time monks around the world meditate on their own death, the fleeting nature of life and the irrefutable truth of change.
From a Western perspective, you would assume this kind of orientation creates a very dour, depressed, “why bother?” kind of person. But it actually does just the opposite. Contemplating these facts of life actually make one more appreciative and aware, while lessening the auto-pilot habit most of us are in each day. Life is treasured as the precious thing it truly is, something to be honored. All the major religious traditions acknowledge the brief nature of physical life and how we should value it accordingly. I, for one, believe they’re onto something.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be how to extend life indefinitely through technological advancement, but rather how do we fully embrace our transient humanity to the fullest.
Carolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.
Through her website Thrive-Living.net, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Removed from public use in the United States in the 1920’s and 1930’s by the medical profession in their move to purge natural health remedies from the marketplace, Colloidal Silver persisted through public demand. In August, 1998 the FDA ordered all Colloidal Silver removed from all U.S. Health Stores as a dangerous substance, but due to public outcry, that order has been temporarily relaxed. So why are the Pharmaceutical company’s and FDA trying so desparately to rid the planet of Colloidal Silver. It’s a well known fact that hospitals use Colloidal Silver in their burn units to stop infection. Newborns have had Silver Nitrate dumped in their eyes to kill bacteria and Viruses from Venereal Disease for decades. So what’s the problem? The problem may lie in the fact that Colloidal Silver is far superior to anti-biotics. While anti-biotics kill bacteria but have multiple side effects, Colloidal Silver kills all bacteria, virus, fungus and yeasts with no side effects. While bacteria develops resistance to anti-biotics, no resistance to Colloidal Silver can be developed. If you’ve tried to research this on the web, the information can be overwhelming as Hospitals, phamaceutical companies, FDA and doctors all claim that there has never been any research on Colloidal Silver. So rather than a “He said – She said”, lets stick to the reseach the FDA claims has never been done. Back in the 1970’s Dr. Robert O. Becker, M.D., a pioneering surgeon at Syracuse Medical University, made a startling discover after he started using electrically generated silver ions to heal severe cases of osteomyelitis, a bone infection that can open up large wounds in a patient’s flesh, an untreatable problem by the medical establishment. By generating silver ions directly into open infected wounds through the use of a small, battery operated Colloidal Silver generator operating at 0.9 volts, he found that not only did the silver effectively kill the infectious microorganisms responsible for the disease, but it also triggered amazing and quite unexpected re-growth of human tissue and bone at the site of the infection. In other words, far from damaging human cells, Becker discovered that silver caused astonishing cellular repair, resulting in dramatic healing of damaged tissues. Becker proved that even when silver ions were electrically driven straight into damaged tissues, massive healing took place as mature human cells were triggered to become healing stem cells, resulting in the complete regeneration of injured tissue! Becker continued to carry out his work on using electrically generated silver ions to stimulate wound healing and trigger re-growth of tissue throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. This work included the development of astonishing new methods using electrically generated silver ions to trigger the re-growth of tissues, limbs and even organs in living creatures such as rats. Dr. Becker would later state regarding his unique treatment method: “All of the organisms that we tested were sensitive to the electrically generated silver ion, including some that were resistant to all known antibiotics…In no case were any undesirable side effects of the silver treatment apparent.” Shortly before he could demonstate the ability of Colloidal Silver to regenerate organ tissue as well as prove Colloidal Silver would turn cancer cells back into normal cells, his work was defunded after pressure from the Pharmaceutical companies and then completely shut down by the University of Syracuse. He ultimately wrote two bestselling books on his work, “The Body Electric”, and “Cross Currents”. These books were written to tell the world of Dr. Becker’s discoveries, much to the dismay of Big Pharma. In his book entitled “The Body Electric”, Becker states that silver deficiency is responsible for the improper functioning of the immune system. While analyzing hair samples and questioning the parties involved, Dr. Becker noted a correlation between low silver levels in the body and disease. Those who maintained low silver levels were frequently sick, with innumerable colds, flu, fevers and other illnesses. Dr. Becker’s experiments concluded that silver destroys a wide range of pathogenic bacteria without damaging any of the cells of the body, and without any harmful side-effects. Dr. Becker also states that silver ion (colloidal state) was accomplishing much more than just killing disease-causing organisms. It was also accelerating major growth stimulation in injured tissues. When exposed to silver, human fibroblast cells (which are able to multiply at an increased rate) then differentiate into the specialized cells of the organ or tissue-system that has been injured or damaged even in patients over fifty years old. Furthermore, Dr. Becker discovered that cancer cells would transform back to normal cells in the presence of the silver ion, regardless of their location in the body. He therefore concluded that Colloidal Silver will regenerate damaged, old or worn out cellular tissue, eliminate cancerous cells, and any other diseased or abnormal condition. He also observed that those patients with higher than average levels of silver ion present in their bodies, who suffered from severe burns, were able to more quickly regenerate the burn-damaged tissue, without the occurrence of scar tissue or any overload to their immune system. Moreover, Colloidal Silver is especially well suited for use against many types of disease-producing organisms simultaneously, even the strains of pathogens and fungi that are highly resistant to synthetic antibiotics. Fantastic successes have been documented in many cases that were previously considered to be hopeless. Residue silver in the body more than doubles the capability of the immune system to destroy cancer cells and other disease-causing organisms, and the friendly bacteria in the intestines (the intestinal flora) are not adversely affected. If you have any doubt about your silver levels, Colloidal Silver is the way to go. There’s plenty of sites with information on internal use of Colloidal Silver with ten times as many sites stating Colloidal Silver is deadly. Big Pharma and the FDA have made every attempt to discredit any natural product that was good and cured people for hundreds of years.
Ancient stone carvings confirm that a comet struck the Earth around 11,000BC, a devastating event which wiped out woolly mammoths and sparked the rise of civilisations.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh analysed mysterious symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, to find out if they could be linked to constellations.
The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that a mini-ice age struck, changing the entire course of human history.
Scientists have speculated for decades that a comet could be behind the sudden fall in temperature during a period known as the Younger Dryas. But recently the theory appeared to have been debunked by new dating of meteor craters in North America where the comet is thought to have struck.
However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar – known as the vulture stone – at Gobekli Tepe they discovered that the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.
Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, they were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas begins according to ice core data from Greenland.
The Younger Dryas is viewed as a crucial period for humanity, as it roughly coincides with the emergence of agriculture and the first Neolithic civilisations.
Before the strike, vast areas of wild wheat and barley had allowed nomadic hunters in the Middle East to establish permanent base camps. But the difficult climate conditions following the impact forced communities to come together and work out new ways of maintaining the crops, through watering and selective breeding. Thus farming began, allowing the rise of the first towns.
Edinburgh researchers said the carvings appear to have remained important to the people of Gobekli Tepe for millennia, suggesting that the event and cold climate that followed likely had a very serious impact.
Dr Martin Sweatman, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, who led the research, said: “I think this research, along with the recent finding of a widespread platinum anomaly across the North American continent virtually seal the case in favour of (a Younger Dryas comet impact).
“Our work serves to reinforce that physical evidence. What is happening here is the process of paradigm change.
“It appears Göbekli Tepe was, among other things, an observatory for monitoring the night sky.
“One of its pillars seems to have served as a memorial to this devastating event – probably the worst day in history since the end of the ice age.”
Gobekli Tepe, is thought to be the world’s oldest temple site, which dates from around 9,000BC, predating Stonehenge by around 6,000 years.
Researchers believe the images were intended as a record of the cataclysmic event, and that a further carving showing a headless man may indicate human disaster and extensive loss of life.
Symbolism on the pillars also indicates that the long-term changes in Earth’s rotational axis was recorded at this time using an early form of writing, and that Gobekli Tepe was an observatory for meteors and comets.
The finding also supports a theory that Earth is likely to experience periods when comet strikes are more likely, owing to the planet’s orbit intersecting orbiting rings of comet fragments in space.
But despite the ancient age of the pillars, Dr Sweatman does not believe it is the earliest example of astronomy in the archaeological record.
“Many paleolithic cave paintings and artefacts with similar animal symbols and other repeated symbols suggest astronomy could be very ancient indeed,” he said.
“If you consider that, according to astronomers, this giant comet probably arrived in the inner solar system some 20 to 30 thousand years ago, and it would have been a very visible and dominant feature of the night sky, it is hard to see how ancient people could have ignored this given the likely consequences.”
The research is published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry.
You can’t squeeze blood from a stone, but wringing water from the desert sky is now possible, thanks to a new spongelike device that uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water per day for every kilogram of spongelike absorber it contains, and researchers say future versions will be even better. That means homes in the driest parts of the world could soon have a solar-powered appliance capable of delivering all the water they need, offering relief to billions of people.
There are an estimated 13 trillion liters of water floating in the atmosphere at any one time, equivalent to 10% of all of the freshwater in our planet’s lakes and rivers. Over the years, researchers have developed ways to grab a few trickles, such as using fine nets to wick water from fog banks, or power-hungry dehumidifiers to condense it out of the air. But both approaches require either very humid air or far too much electricity to be broadly useful.
To find an all-purpose solution, researchers led by Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, turned to a family of crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Yaghi developed the first MOFs—porous crystals that form continuous 3D networks—more than 20 years ago. The networks assemble in a Tinkertoy-like fashion from metal atoms that act as the hubs and sticklike organic compounds that link the hubs together. By choosing different metals and organics, chemists can dial in the properties of each MOF, controlling what gases bind to them, and how strongly they hold on.
US scientists are set to send aerosol injections 20km up into the earth’s stratosphere in the world’s biggest solar geoengineering programme to date, to study the potential of a future tech-fix for global warming.
The $20m (£16m) Harvard University project will launch within weeks and aims to establish whether the technology can safely simulate the atmospheric cooling effects of a volcanic eruption, if a last ditch bid to halt climate change is one day needed.
Scientists hope to complete two small-scale dispersals of first water and then calcium carbonate particles by 2022. Future tests could involve seeding the sky with aluminium oxide – or even diamonds.
“This is not the first or the only university study,” said Gernot Wagner, the project’s co-founder, “but it is most certainly the largest, and the most comprehensive.”
Janos Pasztor, Ban Ki-moon’s assistant climate chief at the UN who now leads a geoengineering governance initiative, said that the Harvard scientists would only disperse minimal amounts of compounds in their tests, under strict university controls.
“The real issue here is something much more challenging,” he said “What does moving experimentation from the lab into the atmosphere mean for the overall path towards eventual deployment?”
Geoengineering advocates stress that any attempt at a solar tech fix is years away and should be viewed as a compliment to – not a substitute for – aggressive emissions reductions action.
But the Harvard team, in a promotional video for the project, suggest a redirection of one percent of current climate mitigation funds to geoengineering research, and argue that the planet could be covered with a solar shield for as little as $10bn a year.
Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, said that despair at sluggish climate action, and the rise of Donald Trump were feeding the current tech trend.
“But solar geoengineering is not the answer,” he said. “Cutting incoming solar radiation affects the weather and hydrological cycle. It promotes drought. It destabilizes things and could cause wars. The side effects are many and our models are just not good enough to predict the outcomes”
Natural alterations to the earth’s radiation balance can be short-lasting, but terrifying. A 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption lowered global temperatures by 0.5C, while the Mount Tambora eruption in 1815 triggered Europe’s ‘year without a summer’, bringing crop failure, famine and disease.
Frank Keutsch, the Harvard atmospheric sciences professor leading the experiment, said that the deployment of a solar geoengineering system was “a terrifying prospect” that he hoped would never have to be considered. “At the same time, we should never choose ignorance over knowledge in a situation like this,” he said.
“If you put heat into the stratosphere, it may change how much water gets transported from the troposphere to the stratosphere, and the question is how much are you [creating] a domino effect with all kinds of consequences? What we can do to quantify this is to start with lab studies and try to understand the relevant properties of these aerosols.”
Stratospheric controlled perturbation experiments (SCoPEX) are seen as “critical” to this process and the first is planned to spray water molecules into the stratosphere to create a 1km long and 100m wide icy plume, which can be studied by a manoeuvrable flight balloon.
If lab tests are positive, the experiment would then be replicated with a limestone compound which the researchers believe will neither absorb solar or terrestrial radiation, nor deplete the ozone layer.
Bill Gates and other foundations are substantially funding the project, and aerospace companies are thought to be taking a business interest in the technology’s potential.
The programmme’s launch will follow a major conference involving more than 100 scientists, which begins in Washington DC today.
Solar geoengineering’s journey from the fringes of climate science to its mainstream will be sealed at a prestigious Gordon research conference in July, featuring senior figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Oxford University.
Pasztor says that most scientific observers now see the window to a 1.5C warmed world as “practically gone” and notes that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will continue rising for many decades after the planet has reached a ‘net zero emissions’ point planned for mid-late century.
But critics of solar radiation management approach this as a call to redouble mitigation efforts and guard against the elevation of a questionable Plan B.
“It is appropriate that we spend money on solar geoengineering research,” said Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “But we also have to aim for 2C with climate mitigation and act as though geoengineering doesn’t work, because it probably won’t.”