Might we suggest some light, enlightening reading?

Linden-2014-FermiGC-detail-smDark matter?

• Or, maybe, zebra stripes around planet Earth?

• Perhaps contemplating the multiverse?

• Or puzzling over the “strangest magma on Earth”? How about extraterrestrial volcanoes?

• Would you believe the Permian-Triassic extinction was caused by microbes?

• Was that whole skydiver and meteorite thing true?

Say Hello to Niijima

They call it ... NiijimaErik Klemetti last month noted one of those terrestrial phenomena we hear about but so rarely get to see:

We have an eruption like Surtsey occurring in the middle of the Pacific Ocean south of Japan. A new eruption at Nishino-shima has breached the surface and started to produce a small island (see above) of black volcanic tephra. The new island (being called Niijima) still looks small, with some reports putting the island at a cozy 200 meters (650 feet) across and 20 meters (65 feet) high — likely not something that would survive for long in the rough Pacific if it only grows to this size. The plume hasn’t been noticeable (at least to me) in any satellite imagery, but that could change some now that the island is above sea level. So far, there isn’t really any hazard for people who live near the remote island, but the Japanese Meteorological Agency has warned ships not to approach the crater . . . . The new vent is just off the shores of another small island and some of the stills included in the news report show those classic “rooster tail” eruptions that go with these Surtseyan eruptions (named after the aforementioned Iceland event).

Evolving Exactitude

“We have yet to be able to monitor a volcano closely before it produced such a cataclysmic event, so we aren’t sure exactly what the full range of events before such an event might be.”

Erik Klemetti

Myth: Science is supposed to know everything exactly.

Reality: Science is science. The word exists in diverse contexts, and that’s where the trouble begins. That is, to the one, science can be described most basically as a tool, or perhaps a set of principles. The word is also used to refer to a body of knowledge collected and applied through those principles, or by that tool.

False color ASTER image of Laguna del Maule (vegetation is in red) on April 9, 2003, showing some of the rhyolite lava flows and domes around the lake. Image: NASA Earth Observatory.But science is also limited according to its practitioners. There is bad science out there, but with the best of science, the most precise outcomes do not emerge ex nihilo. Well, obviously, as nothing emerges ex nihilo, except perhaps things that, by their very nature, cannot be tested by science or otherwise verified to exist.

But we can track the tale of science through history, and perhaps we should avoid the example of hysteria, a superstitious diagnosis of almost astounding convenience, which would eventually lead to the recognition of psychology by Sigmund Freud. No … no, you don’t really want to know how that works.

The point being that as time goes by, the tool fashions more, and also more refined, produce. If science, as such, were the magic-wand some advocates of superstition and “alternative” science would suggest, we would already have figured out everything there is to know.

All of which is a really long way of suggesting Erik Klemetti’s enlightening and entertaining article on developments at Laguna del Maule, an active volcano in Chile. If you want to know exactly what is happening with this volcano right now, science cannot produce an exact answer. To the other, if you would like a glimpse of the changing “personality” of “a complex of Holocene rhyolite-rhodacite domes and ash deposits that center around a lake that straddles the Chilean-Argentine border”, well, this is certainly the article for you.

And the really fun thing is that you learn a bit about geology in general, and vulcanology specifically, along the way.

If you don’t know who Sigmund Freud was, ask someone; their answer will almost inevitably make you wonder why we might suggest one imagine being strapped in a chair while being hosed with a giant water cannon. Actually, don’t try to imagine it. Just take our word for it this time, please?