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Space Science

The Solar Oxygen Crisis 158

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the clearing-the-air dept.
Astrophysicist writes "The Astrophysical Journal this week published an article about the abundance of oxygen in the Sun. Oxygen is the third most abundant atom in the universe, behind hydrogen and helium. Most of the hydrogen and helium was formed in the Big Bang, which means that oxygen is the element most frequently produced by nuclear fusion reactions in the interior of the stars. The solar abundance of oxygen, which is key in astrophysics because of its use as a calibration reference for other objects, was thought to be well established since the 80s. However, recent evidence indicates that it has been overestimated by almost a factor of two. A revision of the solar oxygen abundance would have a cascading effect on other important elements, such as carbon, nitrogen and neon, whose abundance is only known relative to that of oxygen. In addition to the impact on the chemical composition of many stars, models of solar interior may require some reworking in order to be consistent with the new data."
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The Solar Oxygen Crisis

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  • Hard luck (Score:4, Funny)

    by casings (257363) * on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:07PM (#18912083)
    That amount of oxygen is just under the amount needed to create a stable atmosphere for human life on the sun.

    I guess there's always Mercury.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by borizz (1023175)
      I'd rather live on Mercury. The sun has other problems beside a lack of Oxygen. Shooting jets of superheated plasma come to mind.
      • by aurb (674003) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:13PM (#18912131)
        Not to mention real estate prices...
        • by sentientbeing (688713) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:04PM (#18912469)
          I'm continually disappointed that we've never sent a manned mission to the Sun.
          Now, I know what you're thinking:
          'Duh. That's stupid. Its way too hot'

          Yes. But only if you go in the daytime
          • Cue semi-obscure Duck Dodger's reference

            "Invade the Sun!"
        • What if we recalculate the age of the Sun based on these new figures and it shows the Sun got created 5000 years ago . Then it would mean the Christians were right all along and all the fossil evidence was just props put in by God to puzzle the puny humans. See it IS a crisis ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mrbluze (1034940)

        I'd rather live on Mercury. The sun has other problems beside a lack of Oxygen. Shooting jets of superheated plasma come to mind.

        Too much Mercury will drive you insane.

        And we already have shooting jets here - though I know people on the receiving end of those would rather live on Mercury.. but hasn't anyone woken up to the real implications here... if there's less O2 on the Sun.. does that mean we've grossly over-calculated the amount of oxygen on the Earth? Oh no!! I can't breeeeaaaaathe...

    • by misleb (129952) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:32PM (#18912251)
      Even with enough oxygen, you'd need to worry about global warming with all those greenhouse gases such as plasmafied helium...

      -matthew
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Himring (646324)
      My impression of the first man to land on the sun....

      [Jumps around frantically] Ouch! ouch! ouch! ouch!

      Thank you folks. I'll be here all week. Please try the veal....

    • by sconeu (64226)
      No, mercury is fairly toxic to humans. :-)
  • Only a Abstract? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bhima (46039)
    Pity that's just abstract. I'd like to read a little more on this.
    • by kestasjk (933987) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @02:04PM (#18912873) Homepage
      Less oxygen around than we thought.. What process rapidly consumes oxygen? Hydrogen&Oxygen fuel cells used in rockets. Who recently flew into space? Microsoft billionaire Simonyi. What is produced in the reaction? Water vapor. What does water vapor in the atmosphere do? Act as a greenhouse gas and cause global warming. What will be one of the effects of global warming? Many more third world refugees. Who benefits from there being more third world refugees? Providers of technology for the OLPC project. Which company recently became part of the project? Microsoft!


      .. So not worth it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Iron Condor (964856)

      Actually, the abstract is all I need to see - they employ two techniques that yield results that differ from each other by 0.3dex yet they claim confidence limits on their measurements of 0.1dex.

      At that point we can file that under "some dudes PhD thesis" and forget about it.

      Incidentily, the best measurement of local cosmic abundances comes from cosmic rays, not from observations of the sun. They are so sensitive, that we can see the difference in abundance between elements with even or odd numbers of n

  • Goodness (Score:5, Funny)

    by cimmer (809369) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:13PM (#18912129)
    This takes my breath away!
  • by iamacat (583406) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:14PM (#18912139)
    Before being swallowed by a red giant then? Or is amount of Helium proportionally larger?
  • Crisis? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tigheig (546423) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:15PM (#18912147)
    While I can see how this may involve the need to change some parts of the theories of how a star works I'm not sure I see how, either here or in the referenced paper in the Astrophysical Journal, this qualifies as a "crisis". In essence they're saying that the results of their current observations indicate that previous theories need to be modified. How is this is a crisis?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SausageOfDoom (930370)
      Because there's half as much oxygen as they thought! We're all going to die!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zappepcs (820751)
      I think that if they have overestimated the amount of bright/visible matter in the universe, it might make a difference to how much dark matter they need to account for?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by IWannaBeAnAC (653701)
        Maybe, but it wouldn't be that big a change, the estimated amount of dark matter is way more than the amount of visible matter anyway, needing a little bit more won't make much difference.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Agent Orange (34692)
        complete bullshit. This has nothing to do with dark matter, or the amount of visible mass. It merely tells you what percentage of the sun is comprised of oxygen. It is a very tiny amount. For every oxygen atom, there are about a 1000 hydrogen atoms and a hundred helium atoms.

        The evidence for dark matter is based on other observations, like the way disk galaxy's rotate. In order to reproduce those observations, dark matter is required.

        The estimate of the total amount of mass in various phases (e.g. stars, co
        • by arminw (717974)
          ........In order to reproduce those observations,..........

          No, it is in order to protect existing theories about the origin and age of the Universe. Dark matter and energy are not needed if those long held theories are thrown out. That of course is unthinkable. There is no problem in observing the way galaxies rotate. The problem is interpreting these movements in the light of existing assumptions. One such baseless assumption (belief) is that all of the "constants" of physics have indeed been always consta
      • by hitmark (640295)
        makes me think of why the nazi's never got the bomb working. they overestimated how much fissionable material was needed...
    • by syukton (256348)
      IANAA (I am not an astrophysicist) but the amount of oxygen in the sun could indicate its age, or its expected lifespan.

      If the sun only has another thousand years instead of another billion, that is a pretty substantial crisis for example.
    • I was just pondering the same. As far as I can tell, the crisis is that we we're wrong with an initial assumption and now need to update some of the calculations to compensate.

      I believe this is a process known as "science".
  • Full Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Betelgeuse (35904) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:17PM (#18912161) Homepage
    You can find the full article of this at the Astrophysics Preprint server. See here. [arxiv.org]
  • Damn those.. (Score:2, Redundant)

    by daeg (828071)
    Damn those revisionist scientists! Can't they just leave the sun alone?! Changing the oxygen content of stars sounds like it's dangerous!
  • by All_One_Mind (945389) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:20PM (#18912185) Homepage Journal
    and I thought my cascading errors were bad!
  • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige&trashmail,net> on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:24PM (#18912207) Homepage Journal

    Wait for it...3, 2, 1:

    We will now see a bunch of programmers and geeks try to display their scientific understandings and fail miserably. Usually because they read a chapter or 2 of Hawkings, or they know how to spell Fiene...Feinama...that really cool and funny fizicist...phyzi...fiscis...you know, someone who studies how the Universe works.

    I think we'd be better off sharing bio-diesel recipes and gossiping about our favorite TV series that are due for cancellation.

    • by PhxBlue (562201) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:29PM (#18912229) Homepage Journal

      or they know how to spell Fiene...Feinama...that really cool and funny fizicist...phyzi...fiscis...you know, someone who studies how the Universe works.

      Fein, man, be a killjoy! :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kiyoshilionz (977589)
      I assume you speak of Richard Feynman, the physicist that played bongo drums at a strip club? The physisict who would ask girls at a bar if they would sleep with him before he even bought them a drink? The one who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics on quantum electrodynamics [wikipedia.org]? The professor at CalTech?

      All this is from his autobiography, a good read for all of geekdom, though to the OP's point it does make us feel way smarter than we really are.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Paradise Pete (33184)
        It seems to me that if a slashdot reader doesn't know who Feynman was, well, then they're in the wrong place.
    • Some of us actually have a Physics degree; and a few are lucky enough to actually work in the field.

      • by imsabbel (611519)
        Sadly, we are the non-vocal minority in those kinds of topics.
      • by WED Fan (911325)
        You've got a physics degree? cool. Quick, read my mind. Do you have one of thos 900 Fortune Telling numbers?
    • by bumptehjambox (886036) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:33PM (#18912627)
      :polishes glasses:

      The angle of the dangle is directionally proportionate to the heat of the meat and inversely proportionate to the sag of the bag. This is relevant, because the quintessential measure of man's cosmic purpose, and the understanding that comes of each discovery and revelation, is dwarfed by the new questions that then arise. In conclusion, one can conclude, that the effects on the world of physics are far-reaching but, in a closing statement, by nature, never insurmountable.

  • Crisis? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:30PM (#18912243) Journal
    Since when does needing to rethink a few scientific models, and go back and gather some data again now that we know we might have measured wrong constitue a crisis?
    • by Rodness (168429) *
      Because you need a story about a crisis if you want to make the front page of slashdot :)
      • by tomhudson (43916)

        "Because you need a story about a crisis if you want to make the front page of slashdot :)"

        Actually, its a clever slashvertisement to convince everyone that, now that the oxygen is running out, we have to stock up on "Perri-Air" brand oxygen. http://www.girlontheright.com/perriair.jpg [girlontheright.com]

    • by ms1234 (211056)
      Because clearly the intelligent design says so and if intelligent design says so then it must be so.
    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Since when does needing to rethink a few scientific models, and go back and gather some data again now that we know we might have measured wrong constitue a crisis?

      Because the next step is to misinterpret what the story is saying, and then blame somebody. It goes like this: "Oh no, the sun is running out of oxygen. This is clearly caused by heavy industry on Earth." See? Crisis.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Guuge (719028)

        This is clearly caused by heavy industry on Earth.

        Actually, the solar crisis is caused by light industry.

        But you know, why don't we just invade the sun? If we don't fight the photons there then we'll have to fight them here at home.

        • But you know, why don't we just invade the sun? If we don't fight the photons there then we'll have to fight them here at home.

          The sun is holding more than 99% of the entire energy reserves of the solar system (to say nothing of its oxygen reserves). Clearly it furthers our interests to gain a solid foothold in the region, in order to maintain our influence and control over the energy that is currently radiated to the world. And with all that energy, and oxygen, we're dealing with a star that can really fin
      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        Aliens did it. The very same aliens that are going to shock freeze a small tropical island soon. See? Crysis.
    • by slughead (592713)
      Since when does needing to rethink a few scientific models, and go back and gather some data again now that we know we might have measured wrong constitue a crisis?

      Oh no! Scientists may have to earn their grants!

      Reminds me of a passage out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [scribd.com]:

      There's a place up ahead called Mescal Springs," he said. "As your attorney, I advise you to stop and take a swim." I shook my head. "It's absolutely imperative that we get to the Mint Hotel before the deadline for press registration," I

    • by mdielmann (514750)

      Since when does needing to rethink a few scientific models, and go back and gather some data again now that we know we might have measured wrong constitue a crisis?
      Since science took on the tone of religion, and all the faith and infallibility that implies.
  • by sycodon (149926) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:31PM (#18912249)
    I thought it was gonna be something else Bush and Rove were at fault for.

    Headline:

    Sun has less Oxygen that thought, women and children hit hardest.
    • I thought it was gonna be something else Bush and Rove were at fault for.

      This time you can arguably blame Scott McNealy though...
  • by kramer (19951) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @12:34PM (#18912271) Homepage
    Can we please reserve the term "crisis" for events where lives are at stake, and not when some astrophysicists are going to need to re-compute some scientific models?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MollyB (162595) *
      Agreed. While we're at it, can we remove the slogan "war on (whatever)" and save war for its dismal-enough denotation?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can we please reserve the term "crisis" for events where lives are at stake, and not when some astrophysicists are going to need to re-compute some scientific models?
        Agreed. While we're at it, can we remove the slogan "war on (whatever)" and save war for its dismal-enough denotation?
        So... you guys want a War on Crisis?
    • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:38PM (#18912667) Journal
      There is a long tradition of this in physics. My favorite was "The Ultraviolet Catastrophe", which forecast that all energy would be increasing in frequency.

      The point of this kind of tounge-in-cheek hyperbole is to get people thinking about problems in a more creative, out-of-the-box way, and lead them toward solutions. The Ultraviolet Catastrophe led directly to Planck's quantum hypothesis -- which I don't think he even took as a serious solution at the time. But, it took that kind of wacky idea to get people over the hump of classical theory.

      I think that the Solar Oxygen Crisis people are trying to do something similar.

      Thad Beier
      • by coyote-san (38515)
        That's different since the physicists knew what black-body radiation looked like and knew that their theory gave them non-physical solutions involving (infinite?) energy flux at extremely short wavelengths. Nobody thought reality was going to suddenly shift and everyone goes *poof* in a burst of hard X-rays.
    • by MouseR (3264)
      We are in a crisis: if we can't explain how the universe works, the creationists win and we're all doomed.
  • The paper [arxiv.org]. (TFA has a link to the ApJ version, but it tells me that I have an institutional subscription, which presumably means that those outside of academia do not.)
  • Too bad we can't just fly up to the sun and take a sample, eh?
  • by kitzilla (266382) <paperfrog@gGINSBERGmail.com minus poet> on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:13PM (#18912513) Homepage Journal

    Yet more evidence that Solar Warming is really happening. Before you know it, the solar polar ice caps will melt, covering the entire surface of the sun to a depth of 23 feet and extinguishing its flames. Then we're completely screwed.

    I can see why the article calls this a "crisis." Scoff at your own peril.

    • Of course it's a crisis! The United States must immediately launch a mission to Sun crewed by Hollywood stereotypes to drop a nuclear missile into the sun to restore the oxygen balance. Of course a nuclear missile couldn't do that, that's why they have to fly through a narrow gulley around the equator and drop the missle into a special hole.
  • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:20PM (#18912555)
    I am always reminded of the cartoon characters that run off a cliff, but they don't fall until they notice they aren't standing on anything. Maybe now that we notice this, the universe will implode or something. I hope not, at least until the end of the weekend - I hate it when my weekends get cut short.
  • by Agent Orange (34692) <christhom @ g m a i l . com> on Saturday April 28, 2007 @01:21PM (#18912559)
    This is not a new issue in astrophysics, and has been floating since 2004. There are two basic ways to measure the abundances. One is by looking at hte oscillations in the sun, and using those to probe the solar interior. This is called "helioseismology", since it is very similar to the way seismologists figure out the structure and composition of hte earth, by observing seismic waves.

    The other way is to take a spectrum of the sun (which is really just the solar photosphere -- the outer layers, or "atmosphere"). To interpret the spectra, one needs a model, which is used to derive the abundance (how much oxygen there is).

    Now...until recently the models used for deriving abundances were simple 1-dimensional models, which made some assumptions (such as "local thermodynamic equilibrium") and include some fudge factors to account for the fact that you're solving a 3-d problem in 1-d.

    The oxygen problem arises when you use accurate, 3-D models, which don't make the LTE assumption mentioned above -- called non-local thermodynamic equilibrium (NLTE). When one compares the abundances from the 3d NLTE models with what is expected from the helioseismology predictions, the discrepancy arises.

    Others have posted the link to the full journal article on the pre-print server (here [arxiv.org]). The introduction of this paper is a pretty good summary of the problem, albeit intended for a scientific audience.
    • The main problem is that helioseismology gives very precise results about some properties of the sun, like e.g. the depth of the convection zone. If the oxygen abundance is lower than previously assumed, the current models for the structure of the sun fail to reproduce the results from helioseismology.

      There is a potential solution floating for some time: increase the abundance of neon. The neon abundance cannot be reliably inferred from spectra, and thus could well be higher than usually assumed. Lowering t
  • Oxygen is the third most abundant atom in the universe, behind hydrogen and helium. Most of the hydrogen and helium was formed in the Big Bang, which means that oxygen is the element most frequently produced by nuclear fusion reactions in the interior of the stars.

    Faulty logic there; in fact, helium is by far the element most frequently produced by nuclear fusion in stars. Just because a boatload of helium was produced in the Big Bang itself does not mean that more oxygen than helium is produced in stars

  • SOL Macrosystems released a statement today about a cascade error in it's Ox2 processing core... more at 11.
  • Quick! Everyone hold your breath before the oxygen runs out!
  • Most of the hydrogen and helium was formed in the Big Bang, which means that oxygen is the element most frequently produced by nuclear fusion reactions in the interior of the stars.
    No, that doesn't follow. Helium is still the element most frequently produced in nuclear fusion, even if most of it was formed in the Big Bang.
  • Astrophysicists revised their recently published research. After giving the instruments a good whack, the oxygen readings came back in agreement with previous findings.
  • Why doesn't somebody just drill down into the star and find out once and for all, rather than all this guessing. Get Hollywood to make a movie of you doing it, and you'll probably cover all the expenses in the process.

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