Light Pollution Masks the Milky Way for a Third of the World’s Population

Stargazers from around the globe gathered at the Grand Canyon this week to gander upon our galaxy’s grandeur. The national park is hosting its annual star party, an eight-night event inviting the public to observe the heavens free from blinding city lights and street lamps. “As the sky gets darker after sunset you start to notice something on the eastern horizon that at first you think are storm clouds,” said John Barentine, an astronomer and program manager at the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit group that raises awareness to light pollution. “Then as it gets darker you realize they aren’t clouds in our atmosphere, but they are glowing clouds of stars.” What he and thousands of visitors witnessed was a sight hidden to many: The Milky Way. “One third of humanity cannot see the Milky Way,” said Fabio Falchi a researcher from the nonprofit organization the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy. “It is the first time in human history that we have lost the direct contact with the night sky.” Mr. Falchi and a cohort of dark-night knights have spent the last year creating an interactive world atlas that shows the global effect of artificial light on how most of us see the sky after the sun sets. They released the map to the public on Friday in the journal Science Advances. The new atlas is an improved version of their original one, which was released in 2001. The color-coded map, using data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, quantifies the brightness of the night sky across the world, ranging from dark, pristine views like that...

In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide

A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region. Abandoning additional pastures and allowing them to revert to tropical forest could soak up another seven billion tons of the gas, the scientists found. Their paper, published in Science Advances, offers the most detailed estimates to date for a promising approach to combating climate change. Many Latin American governments have promised to encourage forest regrowth, as well as to combat the destruction of existing forests, in their long-term climate plans. But how hard they will push on either issue is unclear. “This is a potential contribution that is sitting right under our noses,” said the lead author, Robin L. Chazdon, a University of Connecticut ecologist who is working at the International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de...

Denmark just installed environmentally friendly traffic lights that give priority to bikes and buses

  You might not think much about it during your daily commute, but the timings of traffic lights play a big role in how quickly you get from A to B, and in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, authorities have shifted things in favor of buses and bicycles. Their new programmable, ‘smart’ traffic lights are now giving automatic priority to these more environmentally friendly modes of transport. It’s officially called the Intelligent Transport Systems Action Plan, and the aim is obvious: making your journey quicker if you’re on public transport or a bike. If the local government can tempt more people out of their cars, they’ll be well on their way to meeting their target of making Copenhagen a carbon-neutral city by 2025. All the installed lights will be connected to the Web, collecting and analyzing data and feeding it back to a central dashboard. An upgrade is well overdue too. The existing traffic lights have been in place for 35 years, and they’re about to be replaced by 380 intelligent signals across the metropolis. It’s part of a 47 million kroner (about US$7 million) overhaul that should benefit car passengers as well, because of smoother traffic flow – just not as much as bus travellers or cyclists. Bus passengers should see a 5 to 20 percent reduction in their travel times, according to city officials, while cyclists can expect to complete their journeys 10 percent quicker, on average. What’s more, Copenhagen buses are going to be reporting back their position to the main grid, so the lights know where each vehicle is and can make adjustments accordingly (if your...

Spanish researchers are developing bladeless wind turbines

  A Spanish company called Vortex Bladeless has come up with bladeless wind turbine technology that seeks to provide more energy for less, and address the criticisms aimed at traditional wind farms – particularly where wildlife is concerned. With blades that spin at speeds of more than 320 km/h (200 miles/hour), wind turbines haven’t been the best news for the birds that live around them. While for the most part, the damage is fairly minimal, one wind farm in particular, Altamont Pass in California, US, has drawn the ire of local residents because of the 1,300 birds of prey – including eagles, falcons, hawks – that are killed each year as they try to migrate through it. And keeping all those heavy blades spinning that fast indefinitely? Well, it’s no easy task, and certainly not cheap, energy-wise. According to Vortex Bladeless, just by ditching the blades – and all moving parts, in fact – they will save around 40 percent of the energy cost of regular wind turbines, largely by cutting down on maintenance costs. “Since the Vortex doesn’t have moving parts or gears, it should last longer and it won’t require periodic lubrication,” Dante D’Orazio from The Verge reports. “The simpler design also means that manufacturing costs are about half that of a traditional wind turbine.” D’Orazio adds that the bladeless turbines are estimated to harvest approximately 30 percent less energy, but because they’re basically just sticks now, you can cram a whole lot more of them into the space of a regular wind turbine. Plus these things are completely silent, so no one can claim instances of...

Scientists are developing the world’s biggest wind turbine

While other technologies are getting smaller and smaller with each passing day, wind turbines are going in the opposite direction, because in order for them to make enough power, they need to harness more wind. Following this logic, researchers are taking turbines to a seemingly impossible scale by giving them blades that are 200 metres (656 feet) long. As Rob Nikolewski reports for the LA Times, the new turbine will reach 479 metres (1,574 feet) into the sky – a height that’s 30 metres (100 feet) taller than the Empire State Building. To keep it stable, the structure would have a diameter of roughly 400 metres (1,312) feet. This is the type of stuff that Don Quixote has nightmares about. According to the team, the size of the turbine isn’t the only thing that separates their design from past models. One of the biggest differences is that this new turbine wouldn’t face the wind. Instead, it would face downwind to allow easier flow. Which makes total sense – why fight against the energy you’re harvesting? The 200-metre blades, which are almost too large to conceive of, would have segments that can spread out in light wind and tighten up in strong winds. Besides collecting more wind at all times, the segmented design, dubbed Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors, makes building and transporting the blades way easier than single-framed blades. Imagine trying to transport a blade that’s roughly two football fields long – not an easy task. If everything goes the way they plan, the turbine could generate up to 50 megawatts of electricity – 25 times more energy than a traditional wind...

This award-winning underground ‘skyscraper’ would sink Central Park

We often marvel at ultra-tall skyscrapers and think of them as a feat of engineering and a symbol of human ingenuity, but if the winner of the 2016 eVolo Skyscraper Competition has anything to say about it, the future of skyscrapers could lie underground, not in the clouds. In a move that goes directly against the word “skyscraper”, a team of architects recently designed an underground megastructure, dubbed New York Horizon, that would sink Central Park and surround the walls of the newly created pit with a building. Basically, Central Park would live inside a gigantic hole in the middle of Manhattan with a structure wrapping around its sides, giving residents of the building a unique view of the park from behind reflective glass. According to the team, the design is meant to reverse the relationship between landscapes and architecture. While buildings generally skew the natural landscape, the new design would effectively disappear into it, an idea that is furthered by the use of reflective glass that would make the park look infinite to those in traditional buildings looking in from above. As the architects put it: “The 1000-feet tall [304 metres], 100-feet deep [30 metres] mega-structure provides a total floor area of 7 square miles [1.6 km], which is about 80 times greater than the Empire State Building. Wrapping all four sides of the new Central Park. This system breaks the traditional perception of large-scale skyscrapers without taking valuable ground area of Manhattan.” The general idea would be to excavate Central Park and relocate the soil to neighbourhoods (although what these neighbourhoods would then do with this soil...