A Juno Flyby, A Terrible Funding Plan, and a Huge Windfarm | Vol. 4 / No. 31

A beautiful pass of Jupiter’s pole | Photo: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

This week we’ve got stories on the latest Juno flyby of Jupiter, the terrible ignorance behind Trump’s planned cuts to NIH grants funding, and the startup of a windfarm of massive proportions. It’s the weekly roundup for Sunday, May 27, 2017!

A Firehose of Juno Data

Juno arrived at our the largest planet in the solar system last July, and since then it’s been sending back data. Every 53 days, Juno makes a close approach to Jupiter, and in the subsequent days scientists “get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science,” according to Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton. And this week we got to see a whole lot of it. I’m actually not going to say anything for a minute, and just bombard you with incredible images. You can click to see them larger.

Juptier’s south pole from an angle | Photo: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran


Jupiter’s south pole | Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles


Waves of clouds at 37.8 degrees latitude | Photo: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran


Jupiter’s south tropical zones | Photo: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstadt/Sean Doran

It seriously doesn’t get better than this. On the southern poles those storms are each the size of the entire Earth. And there’s more than meets the eye: it’s also picking up data on Jupiter’s magnetic field that’s changing the way we think about it. In short, the field’s kinda “lumpy,” which suggests that instead of being generated by the layer of metallic hydrogen deep within the planet (yes, you read that right—at insane pressures and temperatures you can make hydrogen into a metal) maybe the magnetic field is being generated closer to the surface. We’ll need more passes to tell, but we’re learning so much about the planet it’s astonishing. But me, I’m looking forward to the next pass, in early July. At that point Juno will pass directly over the Great Red Spot, and we’ll get to see it in more detail than we’ve ever seen before. You can read more over at NASA, or, for a more well-digested report, check out the coverage over at The Verge.


Science is done in facilities pad for by IDC | Photo: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, CC BY 2.0

What It Means to Cut IDC

The Trump administration’s budget proposal calls for a 20% cut (nearly $5.7 billion) to the NIH, and according to one report, plans are in the works to pay for part of this by slashing IDC payments that are a part of NIH grants. IDC, or Indirect Costs (yes, I know, it should just be IC, which are also known as F&A), are usually an addition 50-60% tacked onto the granted amount, which goes to the university itself to cover the costs of hosting the Principal Investigator (PI or head scientist) and her lab. The report suggests that the number being bandied about is a cap at 10%, or an 80+% reduction in IDC spending. Among other things, this betrays an absolute ignorance of how science is done in American universities. The grant money goes to the lab and the PI to perform the actual science—the experiments, sometimes the post-doc or graduate student salaries, part of the PI’s salary, sometimes equipment (it varies by grant). The IDC pays for all the things that allow the PI’s lab to exist: staff to track and administer the grants, buildings to house the labs, maintenance staff to fix the buildings, electricity to keep the lab’s lights on (literally). Without IDC labs become effectively homeless, and because of the restrictions on what can and can’t be spent on grants (they’re very specific about what they allow) there’s no other way to pay for those additional expenses. As a result, either the science stops happening altogether (at smaller and/or less wealthy institutions), or the costs are offloaded to other parts of the university, raising tuition rates, cutting funding for other programs, and in general screwing people who don’t deserve to be screwed, just so the university can take advantage of a grant. And just so we’re clear, universities don’t just get to set their own IDC rates: they’re the product of negotiation with an oversight agency, and are based on justifiable realities. For more on IDC rates check out this post by Datahound, and for more on the attempt to cut it, check out this article over at Stat.

Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm | Photo: NHD-INFO, Harald Pettersen/Statoil, CC BY 2.0

Massive Windpower

Back in November 2015, I reported that Dong Energy had been given the go-ahead to build a truly massive windfarm in the UK, and this week it started generating power with 32 8-megawatt wind turbines, each one 640 feet tall. While they aren’t quite as big as the biggest-ever, 9-megawatt turbine being tested by MHI Vestas (that one’s 721 feet tall), they’re officially the largest wind turbines to have been put to commercial use to date. According to Engadget, each of the 32 turbines can produce enough electricity with one revolution to power an average UK home for 29 hours or more. The increase in intermittent green energy is going to require more storage and time-shifting mechanisms, but those are coming along, too, with an announcement last December of a subsidy program to that end. Now all we have to do is hope we can make the switch to carbon-free without the help of an on-side US government, since Trump just refused to sign the Paris agreement. Sigh.


Best of the Rest

And because there’s always more to cover, here’s your weekly linkspam.


Last thing before I go, here’s a time-lapse flyby of Jupiter. Put it full screen and just stare at it. It’ll make your day.



That’s all for today, have a great week.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.