NASA researchers have spotted something weird on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres—a pair of mysterious shiny patches that reflect sunlight.
The bright spots were imaged by the Dawn spacecraft, which is whizzing through space on its way to Ceres, and should arrive in orbit on March 6. It'll be the first spacecraft to study a protoplanet at such close range.
"As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission. "We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled."
"When an extreme weather event happens, the public wants to know—is this climate change?" That statement by Lawrence Berkeley Lab's Michael Wehner provided a good background for the session on climate change and unusual weather events that happened at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The fact is, scientists aren't well equipped to answer that question—at least not in a way the public's likely to find satisfying.
Instead, Wehner said, science is on solid ground when it examines weather events in terms of probabilities: is the risk of a given event higher? Will the magnitude of a given type of event change?
Wehner went through some historic events and examined how climate change shifted these probabilities. For example, events similar to Europe's 2003 heat wave (which saw 70,000 deaths) are already twice as likely to occur given the amount we've warmed over pre-industrial conditions. If we allow the globe to warm by 2°C over preindustrial levels, that probability goes up to 154 times. "By the end of the century," Wehner said, "when we're likely to see 4°C warming, this event will likely seem cold."