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Can Friendly Bacteria Help Clean Up the Gulf Oil Spill?

As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico grew worse over the early summer, it was difficult to imagine how the vast pool of brown sticky goo could ever be disposed of. As in the human digestive system, at least some of the answer may yet come from bacteria, what might be called friendly bacteria.

Researchers at Oregon State University say they have discovered a new strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa—a common bacteria that researchers in China learned how to use several years ago to deal with soils contaminated with oil. The new strain, called “NY3,” it is believed, will help to degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs – en­vironmental pollutants that are one of the most harmful aspects of oil spills.

Of course, the deeper problems, which the hemorrhaging oil has seemed to represent, appear likely to remain for a while. Those of a more metaphysical turn of mind have not failed to notice the obvious symbolism of an opening into the underworld through which billowed plumes of darkness. The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus comes to mind. He pursued his kidnapped sweetheart Eurydice into Hell and brought her back. Where is Orpheus, when you need him? It will be interesting to see if any modern hero has what it takes to rescue our lost purity; and if it is given back to us, will we be able to keep it? Orpheus could not.

Sun Storm Warnings Fly

Suddenly the Sun is the center of attention, and if you listen to experts from NASA and other places, that is not a good thing. While on one hand, most climatologists have discounted the role of the Sun as a cause of global warm­ing, they think it could soon be the cause of other problems like major magnetic storms.

Scientists had been expecting sunspot activity, which had recently declined, to return to normal soon. Sunspots, which have been observed for hundreds of years, follow an eleven-year cycle from maximum to minimum. When they did not increase, as expected, over the last year, the NASA computer models predicted that it is only a matter of time until they do come back and with a vengence. For that reason NASA is saying that in 2013 national power grids could overheat, air travel could be disrupted, and just about anything we do with electronic devices could be badly fouled up.

Some have argued that the primary cause of global warming and cooling is not human activity but the Sun. It cer­tainly seems to have played a major part in what has been called the Maunder Minimum. The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 studied by John A. Eddy in a landmark 1976 paper published in Science titled “The Maunder Minimum,” when sun­spots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time. The period also initiated what became known as the Little Ice Age marked by significantly colder weather. Since no electronic devices were around in the seven­teenth century, no one knows about the magnetic effects. But if declining sunspots herald a replay of conditions in that time period, it seems just as reasonable to predict declining temperatures ahead as it is to expect increasing mag­netic storms.

Vast Quantities of Water on the Moon

Even though the United States has apparently abandoned plans to return to the Moon, there is powerful new reason to rethink that decision.

Water, an essential ingredient in any planned lunar exploration, it turns out, is available there in quantities 100 times greater than previously believed. In fact virtual oceans of water are said to exist in the Moon’s interior. It was in October, 2009 that NASA, in association with the Indian space agency, first announced that water had been discov­ered on the moon. The startling new discovery is that it is there in immense quantities.

The new facts came to light when electron microscopic analysis of moon rocks detected the presences of hydroxyl ions implying the presence of very large quantities of water.

Scientists are stunned by the finding. It is, some say, “a game changer,” opening the possibility of using moon wa­ter to support moon colonies and to provide the hydrogen fuel to travel there and back.

The biggest hurdle ahead, as far as further moon exploration is concerned, appears to be an absence of U.S. Gov­ernment leadership and funding, but even if the U.S. drops the baton, other countries, including China, appear poised to pick it up. Perhaps even private companies may yet be able to play in the game.

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