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Posts Tagged ‘Earth rings’

Earth Rings perhaps

Recently, Judith Curry, a well-respected climatologist, stepped down from her position at Georgia Tech because of the politicization of climate science. It is a problem! And after many years of politicization, we are now in the situation where so many positions of influence are held as political plums, that it is easy (and true) to say that there is a consensus on anthropogenic global warming. Fire everyone who does not agree, and you have consensus.

What if Earth had a ring?

Today, I would like to mention a very interesting possible driver of climate: suppose Earth had a ring.

If we had a ring, it would cause shading on the Earth. Furthermore, as Earth traveled around the sun, the shade of the ring would fall on the northern hemisphere for one half-year and on the southern hemisphere for the other half-year. Indeed, it would fall on the northern half during our winter, and on the southern half during “their” winter. The effect would be to intensify winter. So who would notice that? Bears?

Where would the ring come from

But a ring is made of stuff – dust essentially – and that stuff would eventually fall down. Even a very fine dust would eventually fall to Earth, and after that, there would be no ring. So a ring has to be fed more dust, and there is only one way to do that efficiently: get the Moon to contribute dust on a moderately regular basis. This requires that the Moon be geologically active – it must have active volcanoes.

There is a big argument about that, but if it has volcanoes, it can supply a ring. In fact, if it has volcanoes, we must certainly have a ring, because some of what explodes upward on the Moon will not fall down. It will orbit the Moon, then be captured by the Earth and orbit Earth in an Earth-Moon orbit, then collapse into a Moon-tilted Earth orbit, then fall into an equatorial orbit, and finally fall down.

If lunar volcanoes, then Earth-ring; if Earth-ring, then lunar volcanoes.

Surely we would see it!

How could we not see an Earth ring? We see the rings of Saturn from millions and millions of miles away. Over a billion, actually.

Two reasons not to see an Earth ring:

First: Because Earth is rounder than Saturn (Saturn is more oblate), our ring would be more diffuse, more fluffy. It would be harder to see. Ask your local physicist about that.

Second: The rings would be relatively close to the Earth, and would be visible, if at all, only near the horizon. When we do astronomy, we look up very high. We don’t look near the horizon because there is a lot of interference there – city lights for one, and haze of various kinds for another. If we want to see something close to the eastern or western horizon, we choose a different time of night, when our target star is up high. If we want to see something close to the northern or southern horizon, we move north or south.

How might on see it?

There is, of course a third reason not to see it: we are not looking. If we were looking, and if we knew exactly what we were looking for, we might see it.

Somebody might go to Jamaica, for example, where the southern horizon does not have any cities. She might get a time-lapse camera and just photograph the sky all night. If there were a ring, she would see the stars against that light familiar haze that makes astronomers not do near-horizon investigations, but she would tell herself it was the ring dust, illumined by the Sun long after dark, because it is so high – one or a few ten thousands of miles or so.

She would expect that in the middle of the night, the shadow of the earth would fall on the ring and this “light haze” would disappear for a few hours. Since there would be no cities turning off their lights to deepen the darkness, she would have evidence of the ring. This has been done, and the darkness did seem to appear. The camera was cheap, and the darkness not spectacular, but it seemed to be there.

And you don’t have to go to Jamaica. Any place in the middle latitudes that has no cities for a long way south will work… In high latitudes, the rings would be too low on the horizon.

So what?

I mean, does this have consequences?

Well, don’t you see, the rings would – or might — be a significant climate driver. We do know that the ice ages were primarily a result of colder winters. Colder winters do cause late summers, which may then be cooler, but the problem is a winter problem. That is how rings would affect climate: colder winters first of all. However, because rings could be a climate driver, their study is not a way to get tenure or good appointments; the only climate driver permitted to be discussed is human activity.

Nevertheless, whatever is, is, and whatever isn’t, isn’t.  If the Moon is active, there must be rings. Go find them.

Where do rings go

So if the rings are composed of Moon dust, where do they go? After all, if the Ice Age was caused by the rings, where did they go? The dust fell down, okay, but what makes the dust fall one year (or one decade or century or millennium) and not another?

Well, if the dust is very small (and the YORP effect guarantees that it will end up small if it doesn’t start small) if it is very small, then solar storms, which release floods of high-energy charged particles, can cause a sudden downfall of dust from one sector of the ring. The immediate effect might be a local storm, possibly quite a large one. Unexpected storms are not so unusual. During a phase of very active sun, lots of sunspots that is, the ring would erode very considerably. But during quiet sun, the ring could get thicker.

We do know that the Maunder minimum was a time of very few sunspots, seventy years with no spots visible, and the Jesuits were watching closely. The Maunder Minimum is the middle of the Little Ice Age. So there is a correlation; there might be causation.

There might be.

Quiet sun might cause thickening rings, colder winters. And we have a very quiet sun these days, these years. You can’t wake up the sun by parking your car.

Has anyone really seen a ring

The ancient astronomy sites such as Newgrange in Ireland have lots of astronomical markers, and then lots of mysterious loops that have no astronomical significance at all. Were the rings visible in those days? We really do not know, but Lucy Hancock offers this visualization of the rings.

One more question

If there is a ring, or a set of rings, even a mushy one, and if the ring is thickening, could it affect the visuals of an eclipse? We in the United States have a very spectacular eclipse coming up in August. We are hoping for millions of people to see the wonderful corona of the sun; it is said to be the most beautiful, most awesome of sights.

If — If — If there were a ring, and if the path of the ring crossed the path of the view of the eclipse, (and if there were no clouds) then if the corona diminished at a certain point for no good reason… That would be very sad for the viewers, but very interesting for the ring seekers.

We could calculate where the ring, if there is one, might intersect the path of the view of the eclipse, but nobody has done that yet. It is not a priority. Return to top…

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Where’s the Ring?

If there are Earth Rings, why don’t we see them?

There are many reasons why we might not see them, and basically, they fall into two categories: reasons why the rings would be inconspicuous, and claims that, actually, we do see them, we just don’t understand what we are seeing.

First of all, here are a few reasons why the rings would be inconspicuous.

  1. The rings we are talking about would have been relatively faint in the late 20th century, when our telescopes developed most rapidly, because this was generally a time of high solar activity. Even the whole 20th century had considerable activity as well as the end of the 19th. The rings we speak of must be replenished constantly, so they might have been faint at any time, but presumably they would have been faint at this time.
  2. These rings would generally be low on the horizon for observers in the northern hemisphere. From most places they would be obscured either by natural haze or by whatever city light is glowing all over the southern horizon from most places. So the rings wouldn’t be easy to see; a casual observer would not notice them. A sophisticated space probe might, but those are aimed into the deep sky, not low on the horizon.
  3. We are not looking for them. The common consensus about the Moon is that it is too cool to be volcanic. This is not a universal consensus, and my Father who was considered a reputable scientist in every other way, did not share it. But it was broad enough to govern the choice of research projects over a considerable period of time. Since the rings depend on replenishment from lunar volcanic material, they cannot exist unless the Moon is active. If they don’t exist, we need not look for them.

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This is a very long thought, but I would like to entertain this question: what if the Earth had rings?

You might answer immediately: Well, it doesn’t.

But suppose they were very light rings, just composed of dust, most of which fell to earth from time to time so that sometimes the rings were very sparse indeed, and other times, they were thicker? They might not be visible unless you knew exactly where to look for them – and unless you looked. There are always lots of things that people don’t see because they don’t know what to look for.

The most commonplace unseen is sundogs. Once you know what they are, you see then 50 times a year; maybe more. But the first time people hear about them is also the first time most people notice them. That has been true of my students and their families. Now and then, someone sees a very bright sundog and thinks it’s a rainbow. That’s because he knows so little about rainbows that having the red on the inside instead of the outside doesn’t bother him. The less you know, the less you notice.

But, you might say: For heaven’s sake, we’ve got satellites up there. We would certainly notice an earth ring. Scientists notice things.

Actually… scientists are like other people. They notice things that they are looking for, and sometimes, when they have really good instruments and are very full of curiosity, they notice something that is completely unexpected. The rings of Saturn, for example, were a complete stunner the first time we had close-up photos of them. Everyone was surprised, flabbergasted, actually. I remember. But taking the photographs was intentional.

Nobody has looked for very subtle Earth rings.

Now, if the Earth had rings, the source of the dust would have to be the Moon. In fact, it would just about have to be dust from lunar volcanism. Right now, the largest consensus says that the Moon is cold through to the center and there is no volcanism. Therefore, there is no point looking for Moon dust. So we don’t. The end.

I don’t belong to that consensus because my father did not and he knew more about the Moon than anybody.

Okay, that just sounds like, “My dad is bigger’n your dad.”

But let me mention just two more teasers for today.

First: if you read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, you will find the line where Coleridge says,

                   Till clomb above the eastern bar,

                   the horned moon, with one bright star

                   within the nether tip.

Think about it. There cannot be a star “within” the tip of the horned (crescent) Moon because that would be a star between ourselves and the Moon. None such. But there were reports in Coleridge’s day of lights on the Moon in just that position.

Why? Maybe little green men on the moon were lighting campfires, or maybe there really is volcanism. Or maybe something else… I’m voting for volcanism, and I’m not in a crowd, but I’m not alone either. Something is going on up there and if it’s volcanism, it could throw up dust and some of the dust would not fall down on the Moon but would be caught up in terrestrial gravity.

I would like to take a few posts to explain the concept of earth rings. The reason they would be important and interesting, if they exist, is that they would have an effect on our weather. After all, they would cast a shadow. Not a big fat visible shadow, but a shadow nonetheless. The effect would sometimes be subtle and sometimes be strong depending on the thickness of the ring, and the effect would always be cyclic, but ring cycles would not necessarily match the Earth year. Instead, the cycles would match something in the lunar cycle as it interacts with the Earth year. It would be the sort of thing that you wouldn’t notice unless you knew exactly what you were looking for.

That’s my second the point. It would matter to a weather forecaster. My Ring forecaster is expecting a warm summer, likely to re-ignite the discussion of global warming, and a cold winter, likely to hush it some, and a bitter next March, likely to silence it for a bit.

There’s more.

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