Friday, October 8, 2010

I love science

I really do. It's fun, interesting, and it makes you think about the world around you. Take, for instance, this article (drawing on a new study published in Nature).

In the study, the researchers used data from a new satellite (active since around 2003), to study the affect on solar radiation on Earth's atmosphere. The sun is just now starting to come out of a minimum. During that time, the solar radiation across the entire spectrum was low, as expected. However, the researchers found that the UV radiation was actually lower than expected, while energy in the form of visible light was higher than expected. This is sort of contrary to what is expected, and will definitely lead to more research into the matter.

For instance it will be interesting to see what happens as the sun ramps up an expected maximum in solar radiation in the next couple of years (the sun has a well-documented 11-year cycle in radiation output). Will the visible radiation decrease as the UV radiation increase? If so, that will cause some thinking to be done across a number of science fields, including astronomy and climate science.

The smart people over at RealClimate are already pondering this and that. Naturally, there's a big wait-and-see component. As Gavin Schmidt points out, there is some movement to the data that implies there might be a minor flaw in the data due to satellite instability in orbit. From RealClimate:

"While it does seem clear that the overall trend [of visible light data] from 2003 to 2009 is an increase, closer inspection suggests that this anti-phase behaviour only lasts for the first few years, and that subsequently the trends are much closer to expectation. It is conceivable, for instance, that there was some undetected or unexpected instrument drift in the first few years. The proof of the pudding will come in the next couple of years. If the SIM data show a decrease while the TSI increases towards the solar maximum, then the Haigh et al results will be more plausible. If instead, the SIM data increase, that would imply there is an unidentified problem with the instrument."

Check out the RealClimate article for the image refenced in the above quote.

That's the fun of science. You get a data set and you need to figure out what it's telling you. Thinking is good for your brain. There might be a study about that somewhere...

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