Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Political, Technical

Welcome to the age of climate change

Our planet is under tremendous stress now. During the last week of January, major cities in the US Midwest and Northeast were colder than some regions in Antarctica. Temperature in Minneapolis dipped as low as negative 32 degrees Celsius, with the wind chill reaching negative 47. Grand Forks in North Dakota has seen the lowest wind chill at negative 54 degrees. As many as 21 cold-related deaths have been reported so far.

Temperatures during the first week of February rose on average by a whopping 40-50 degrees. However, the reprieve is going to be short-lived as the frigid temperatures are expected to return later this month.

Although the scientifically challenged US president wants global warming to “come back fast”, someone should whisper into his ears that extreme cold spells in the Northern Hemisphere are caused, at least in part, by global warming. Under normal circumstances, cold air mass sits above the poles in an area called the polar vortex. Emerging research suggests that a warming Arctic distorts the vortex in the North Pole, so that instead of staying where it belongs in winter, closer to the Arctic Circle, the air moves down south into continental United States. Hence, the brutal cold spells. With the rapid warming of the Arctic, the effects of the polar vortex could become more frequent and severe, bringing about more intense periods of cold snaps and storms.

While we are trying to stay warm, down under, Australians are getting baked by record-breaking heat. Over two days in November, temperatures exceeding 40 degrees in Australia’s north wiped out almost one-third of the nation’s fruit bats, also known as spectacled flying foxes. Scores of brumbies—Australian wild horses—in the Northern Territory have fallen victim to the January heatwave, which soared to a high of 47 degrees. They died from starvation and dehydration. More than a million fish have perished in a river in New South Wales as the water temperature surpassed their tolerance limit.

Last summer, many nuclear power plants in Europe halted operation because overheated river water could no longer cool down the reactors. And like many Asian megalopolises, Bangkok is choking on air pollution. Water cannons are used to alleviate the smog that has shrouded the city for weeks.

A series of droughts with little recovery time in the intervals has pushed millions to the edge of survival in the Horn of Africa. Bangladesh is staring at an unprecedented migration problem as hundreds of thousands face a stark choice between inundated coastal areas and urban slums.

California saw its most ruinous wildfires ever in 2018, claiming more than 100 lives and burning down nearly 1.6 million acres. There have even been freak blazes in Lapland and elsewhere in the Arctic Circle. There is ample data to suggest that climate change is the biggest driver of out-of-control wildfires. In colder regions, an unusually warmer climate leads to earlier snowmelt and, consequently, spring arrives earlier. An early spring causes soils to be drier for a longer period of time. Drier conditions and higher temperatures increase not only the likelihood of a wildfire to occur, but also affect its severity and duration.

Typhoon Mangkhut with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour roared across the Philippines and China in September 2018, triggering landslides, extensive flooding and killing some 100 people. The ferocity of the typhoon matched that of Hurricane Florence on the other side of the globe that pummelled the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the United States just four days earlier. The wind speed was 130 miles per hour and the hurricane claimed 36 lives.

Cutting-edge research by climate scientists indicates that the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons is closely connected to global warming. Higher sea levels due to melting of glaciers and Greenland’s ice sheets and warm water give coastal storm surges a higher starting point. Additionally, because hurricanes and tropical storms gain energy from water, their destructive power intensifies. Moreover, as the Earth has warmed, the probability of a storm with high precipitation levels is much higher than it was at the end of the twentieth century.

Besides raising the sea level, climate change is also modifying oceans in different ways. According to a study published in Nature Communications in January 2019, as climate change gradually heats oceans around the globe, it is also making the ocean waves stronger and more deadly.

Climate change is ravaging the natural laboratory in the Galápagos Islands, one of the most pristine and isolated places in the world, where Charles Darwin saw a blueprint for the origin and natural selection of every species, including humans. Today, because of the more frequent El Niño events that have come with warming of the seas, the inhabitants of the islands are trying to cope with the whims of natural selection.

Welcome to the age of climate change! These are just a few examples of multiple weather-related extremes occurring all over the world. They beg the question: Can human beings survive the climate crisis? The answer depends on what we do in the next 10-20 years. It will determine whether our planet will remain hospitable to human life or slide down an irreversible path towards becoming uninhabitable.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “If what we agreed in Paris would be materialised, the temperature would rise more than three degrees.” He is finally seeing eye-to-eye with the mainstream scientists and essentially declared the 2015 Paris Accord a dead deal.

If global temperature indeed increases by more than three degrees, summer heat would become unbearable. In particular, temperatures and humidity levels in cities that are already scorching hot would rise to levels that the human body simply cannot tolerate, researchers warn. More importantly, it would trigger a positive greenhouse effect feedback that would eventually push our planet, according to Guterres, “dramatically into a runaway climate change….” Once the runaway greenhouse effect starts, then Paris-like accords, conferences of parties, rulebooks for adaptation to climate change, or going cold turkey with fossil fuels won’t be able to reverse the situation.

Runaway greenhouse effect is not a “Chinese hoax.” Several billion years ago, Venus was cooler than what it is now and had an abundance of water in oceans overlain by an oxygen-rich atmosphere. The current hellish condition on Venus where the surface temperature is a blistering 460 degrees Celsius was caused by runaway greenhouse effect.

Thus, without a significant adjustment to how we conduct our lives, the possibility of Venus syndrome is quite high. In this scenario, our planet would still keep on spinning, but as the fourth dead ball of rock devoid of life.


Quamrul Haider is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary

Tagore’s renunciation of OBE in 1919

David Olusoga has attempted to justify his honour. But surely black and Asian Britons should try to undo imperial delusions.

Rabindranath Tagore: ‘The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation.’ Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images

A century ago the eminent Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore returned his knighthood to the viceroy of India, which was awarded in 1915. The “time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation”, Tagore wrote in outrage as scores of peaceful protesters were massacred in Jallianwala Bagh. He would now “stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen”.

In accepting the knighthood, Tagore had been unfairly accused of being a colonial flunkey, partly because he had expressed justifiable reservations about aspects of Indian nationalism. The 1919 atrocities in Amritsar jolted the Nobel laureate into accepting that his Knight Commander of the British Empire (the CBE still in use today) could not be treated as unconnected to the bloodied realities of that empire’s operations.

The belief that titles such as Officer, Dame Commander or Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire can be treated as purely symbolic, untainted by the gross brutalities of the imperial project, appear more plausible today, with historical distance. Accepting his Order of the British Empire, the public historian David Olusoga, who has a Nigerian father, has insisted defensively that while “the empire was an extractive, exploitative, racist and violent institution”, the fact that “there isn’t an empire any more” changes things completely.

The E-word is now a slightly retro empty term – a little bit distasteful, for sure, but happily emancipated from any historical reference. However, Olusoga’s comforting thought runs counter to the British establishment’s own adamantine but honest refusal, despite official criticism of the word as “anachronistic” and “insensitive”, to substitute “empire” in these titles with something less divisive and racially charged. It also ignores the extent to which aspirations to a resurgent imperial global grandeur have resurfaced, so explicitly and harmfully in the case for Brexit. Is the empire really over, or has it remained a virus-like sleeper cell in the British political imagination?Ms Dynamite

Rabindranath Tagore, ca. 1930

The black scholar Paul Gilroy suggests that Britain’s refusal to accept the loss of empire has produced “deluded patterns of historical reflection and self‑understanding”. Surely it is the task of black and Asian Britons to undo, not pander to, these delusions.

The most eloquent case for descendants of the enslaved, the indentured and the colonised to refuse honours that exalt the British empire was made by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah in this paper. He linked his own rejection of an OBE in 2003 not just to past atrocities or a “betrayal” of enslaved ancestors but to the very real afterlife of empire: racism, police brutality, privatisation, militarism, ongoing economic dispossession and the retention of the spoils of empire. One is either “profoundly anti-empire” or one accepts its many self-serving fictions along with the honour, including the notion that despite a few mishaps, it was a largely benevolent enterprise.

Zephaniah’s choice was based on clear principles, from a long and often forgotten tradition of black and Asian resistance to the global harm inflicted by empire, and the understanding that imperial and domestic rule were maintained by paternalism, buying loyalties heading off dissenters at the pass and ensuring that criticism was toned down. In the 1930s, the fiercely anti-colonial black British newspaper International African Opinion identified “the judicious management of the black intelligentsia, giving them jobs, OBEs and even knighthoods” as a key tactic for diffusing confrontation.

Bestowing knighthoods on African chiefs (indirect rule) and Indian princes elicited their assistance in controlling the colonised masses, though this was not always possible given widespread resistance. A select class of non-white leaders could be upheld as exemplars of a just system even as the large majority continued to face widespread discrimination and inequality.

Olusoga suggests that, by acknowledging the “incredible achievements of black and Asian Britons”, OBEs can be seen as a defeat of racism. Apart from the ways in which tokenism usually enables hierarchical and exclusionary systems to continue business as usual, the more vital question is whether OBEs actually facilitate what Olusoga correctly describes as the “need to confront” not celebrate the history of empire. The role of an officer of the empire is hardly calculated to induce that much-needed confrontation.

The British establishment, utterly reliant on fictions of imperial glory and benevolence, is not so naive as to facilitate its own undoing. Olusoga and others are fully entitled to their personal choices and private compromises. What is more questionable is the presentation of these personal decisions as politically sound choices made selflessly in the name of all black Britons.

Does having a few black names with OBE after them really signify that the British establishment acknowledges the profound historical contributions of black and Asian people to this nation, not least through producing much of its wealth? Beyond exceptional individual achievement, non-white Britons have also collectively organised for rights, fought racism challenged the empire, lobbied for legislation, run for political office, led demonstrations, produced community newspapers, and engaged in radical political education. So no: the “only options on the table” are not “to accept or decline” a seat at it. The real task is to bring this country to an understanding of what empire was, did and continues to do – and to question how a genuinely democratic decolonisation can be achieved in future.

• Priyamvada Gopal is a lecturer at Cambridge University

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters

solar_energy

The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Life as it is, Political

Politics of climate change, sinking Bangladesh and floating houses

Climate change is real and permanent. There is no turning round as we have gone past the point of no-return. It can only get worse from here. Climate change is, therefore, an existential threat for our children and grandchildren for whom time is running out fast.

Floating house in BangladeshApparently, it isn’t a threat for those who abdicated leadership of a warmer world and yet formulate environment-damaging energy policies from the luxury of their cooler world—air-conditioned homes and offices. If they cared even a bit about their progeny, they wouldn’t be flying in ozone-layer-depleting private planes or riding fossil-fuel-guzzling stretched limos and SUVs.

A few world leaders led by Donald Trump believe that carbon dioxide makes the earth greener instead of creating climate crisis. Consequently, Trump deleted references to “climate change” from government websites, fired scientists from advisory boards and the Environmental Protection Agency. He seized on the uncertainty in climate models to reverse greenhouse gas emission regulations of the Obama administration and withdrew the United States from the 2016 Paris Agreement on curbing global warming. He even nonsensically blamed this year’s out-of-control California fires on environmental laws. Other climate change deniers are his bagful of deplorables, the well-paid operatives of organisations that take contributions from fossil fuel corporations and a colourful cast of self-styled “experts” who have made a living out of rejecting the scientific evidence of climate change.

They are perhaps not aware that one of the most alarming but reliable projections for global warming has been made by researchers at the prestigious Carnegie Institution of Science in Stanford in California. The results of their research, based on a decade’s worth of satellite observations concerning the net balance between the amount of energy entering and leaving the atmosphere, have been published in the December 2017 issue of the high impact, peer-reviewed journal Nature. They concluded that if large emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated throughout the century, worldwide temperatures could rise nearly five degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

It is an undeniable fact that episodes of raging wildfires, high-category hurricanes, ferocious cyclones, floods of biblical proportions, deadly mudslides, severe droughts, bone-chilling Arctic blasts followed by lethal heatwaves and the melting of Arctic ice at a rate never before seen are effects of a sub-one degree rise in global temperature since 1880. Heaven only knows what will happen if we, as agreed upon by the 2016 Paris Agreement’s stakeholders, take the free pass of heating up our planet by two degrees before the end of this century.

Even a two-degree rise in global temperature would most likely set the stage for the greenhouse effect to spin out of control, eventually triggering a runaway greenhouse effect whose impacts would be cataclysmic, to say the least. Nevertheless, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that there is virtually no chance of a runaway greenhouse effect being induced by human activities, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions are still moving in the wrong direction.

What triggers a runaway greenhouse effect? The increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapour, two of the dominant greenhouse gases, would raise the global temperature which, in turn, would cause more water from the oceans to evaporate and carbon dioxide stored in the soil and oceans to bake out. This would be in addition to the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. The positive feedback of continued emission of these greenhouse gases would ultimately snare our planet into a vicious cycle of a runaway greenhouse effect, which was responsible for raising the surface temperature of Venus to a blistering 480 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt lead.

One of the countries that is already paying a hefty price for the climate sins of industrial nations is Bangladesh. It is predicted that the two-degree boost in temperature and the subsequent rise of sea levels would sink the coastal areas of Bangladesh, thereby resulting in an unprecedented human tragedy. Already, the intruding sea has contaminated groundwater which supplies drinking water for coastal regions and degraded farmlands, rendering them less fertile and at places completely barren.

Although engineering adaptations to climate change have been successful in other countries, such as the dikes constructed in the Netherlands, they won’t work in Bangladesh because the soils are sandy and constantly shifting. Thus, if the country does not want to see millions of her climate refugees migrating inland and ending up in decrepit slums, then the government should take a serious look at the “Dream House”—a flood-resistant floating house—built by a team of BRAC University students.

The concept of floating houses and floating villages is not new. There are many such villages in the world. They are communities with houses and other amenities of a town built on top of large raft-like structures or on stilts, as in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Floating houses in Bangladesh’s coastal areas could save the lives and livelihoods of millions from the catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change. Bangladeshi farmers have already developed techniques for building floating farms, known as “dhaps,” with duck coops, fish enclosures and vegetable gardens anchored by ropes to the riverbanks where the water rises at least three metres during the monsoon season.
The arduous life of the people living in the floating dwellings that would gently rock and roll with the ebb and flow of the Bay of Bengal would not only be a paragon of adapting to climate change but also a modern-day example of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

 

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Bangladesh, Economic, International, Technical

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.