Taxonomy term


Why meteors snap, crackle and pop

Keen-eared observers sometimes report hearing popping, whistling or buzzing at the same time they see meteors pass far overhead, a perplexing phenomenon called the electrophonic effect. What causes the effect — or if it’s even real — has been discussed for centuries; famed astronomer Edmond Halley is said to have dismissed it as a figment of people’s imaginations. In a new study in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers suggest that not only is it real, but that it is caused by radio waves induced by meteors and converted to sound waves near Earth’s surface.

17 Aug 2017

Electric fields lift dust into the air at massive scales

During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, black blizzards of dust enveloped the Great Plains, destroying crops. When farmers heard a crackling sound over the radio, they often knew a dust storm was coming, as such storms carry an electric field that can disrupt electronic equipment. Scientists have known since the 1800s that these fields exist, but how they might affect the swirling dust around them has not been understood. In airborne dust over the Sahara Desert, scientists have now directly measured these electric fields for the first time and found that, if strong enough, the fields can lift vast amounts of dust into the air.

25 Oct 2016

D.C. wastewater no longer going to waste

D.C. Water & Sewer Authority, which treats sewage from Washington, D.C., as well as from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs ringing the city, is the biggest consumer of electricity in the U.S. capital. But last September, D.C. Water began creating its own power, becoming the first utility in the country to convert sewage into electricity.
03 Feb 2016

Solar storms cause spike in electrical insurance claims

On March 13, 1989, a geomagnetic storm spawned by a solar outburst struck Earth, triggering instabilities in the electric power grid that serves much of eastern Canada and the U.S. The storm led to blackouts for more than 6 million customers and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages and economic losses. More than 25 years later, the possibility of such a catastrophe still looms, and the day-to-day effects of space weather on electrical systems remain difficult to quantify. Now, a new study correlating electrical insurance claims with geomagnetic data suggests that even moderate space weather may play a significant role in destabilizing the power grid.

09 Nov 2014

Energy storage brings a renewable energy future one step closer

Renewable energy sources promise to address many of the energy challenges facing society: They derive power from inexhaustible supplies of sunlight and wind and have the capability to meet a substantial portion of global electricity demands without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. However, renewable power supplies must first overcome one inherent drawback: variability.

29 Sep 2013

Why is the U.S. so insecure about its energy security? Measures of energy independence show it is increasing, not decreasing

In recent years, every time an election has rolled around, politicians have espoused the necessity of energy independence and energy security. According to them, if we are to achieve the necessary level of energy security we need to “drill, baby, drill,” develop “clean coal,” install new pipelines, develop renewable energy, make sure our cars get better gas mileage, or [fill in another sound bite of your choosing here]. A listener could easily conclude that the U.S. lacks energy security. But what do the numbers tell us about our current state of independence?

28 Apr 2013

The dangers of solar storms: That which gives power can also take it away

Were a massive solar storm to strike Earth, the impacts could rival or exceed the worst natural disasters humans have ever faced. In last month’s issue of EARTH, we explored what is known about solar activity, the sun and its interaction with Earth. This month, we examine the possible effects of solar activity and the vulnerability of power grids and satellites, as well as what is being done to reduce that vulnerability.

21 Jan 2013

Voices: Must we capture and store carbon from coal to meet emission-reduction targets?

Last Wednesday, Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman unveiled a comprehensive energy bill (PDF) called the American Power Act. The central purpose of the proposed legislation (along with a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009) is to significantly curb the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.

18 May 2010

Making electric grids smarter

How information technology will make America's electrical system cleaner, more efficient and more reliable.

19 May 2009