This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special
English. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Barbara Klein. This week, we will
tell the latest about sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. We will also tell about an international
competition involving solar-powered houses. And, we will tell about a new public observatory in Washington, DC.
The warmest season in the Arctic Ocean could never be
described as warm. Yet some sea ice in
the Arctic melts each year during summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Then it freezes again in the winter. The total of sea ice is known as the sea ice
extent. The ice is important because it
helps keep the Arctic cold and reduces extremes in the Earth's climate.
Experts say the Arctic sea ice extent is
under threat. But there is some good
news about the extent, at least for now. Scientists say a little more ice covered the Arctic in September than in
September of two thousand eight. The
scientists work for the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of
Colorado in Boulder.
is the month when the sea ice extent is at its lowest. The scientists say the average Arctic sea ice
extent last month was about five million square kilometers. This was more than one million square
kilometers more than the record low for September. The record low was set in two thousand seven.
Mike Steele is an ocean expert at the University of
Washington in Seattle. He says sea
surface temperatures in the Arctic were higher than normal last month. But skies were cloudy during the summer. That caused lower temperatures, which slowed
loss of ice. Atmospheric conditions in
August and September also helped to spread the ice. They kept the sea ice extent higher.
the National Snow and Ice Data Center says the most recent September
measurement was the third lowest since nineteen seventy-nine. The center says September Arctic sea ice is
decreasing at a rate of more than eleven percent every ten years. In the winter months, it is falling by about
three percent every ten years.
director, Mark Serreze, says it is good to see what he calls, a little
recovery. But he says there is no reason
to think that the ice levels will return to the levels of thirty years
ago. He warns that the Arctic Ocean
could be free of ice during future Northern Hemisphere summers.
The report also says the two thousand nine ice cover
was thin. This means it might melt in
future summers. The scientists say that
ice formed less than one year earlier covered almost half of the extent.
On a cold weekend this month, thousands of people
waited in the rain to visit twenty unusual buildings set up in the heart of
Washington, DC. They gathered to see
buildings that get all the power they need from the sun. But these structures were not just about
solar power. They offered visitors a
chance to step into the future of home design and household technology.
houses were entered in the Two Thousand Nine Solar Decathlon. The United States Department of Energy
organized the event. It brought together
teams representing twenty universities from Canada, Germany, Spain and the
United States. The main goal was to
create beautiful homes that can meaningfully cut energy use.
competition was first held in two thousand two and has taken place every two
years since two thousand five. Teams sent
proposals to the Department of Energy, which accepted twenty for the Decathlon. The Department gave one hundred thousand
dollars to each of the accepted teams to start their projects. But there was no spending limit. The final houses cost from about two hundred thousand
dollars to over eight hundred thousand dollars to make.
house had about two hundred forty square meters of floor space. The idea was to design great places to live. Architecture students developed designs that were
imaginative and effective. Some used
natural materials like wood on the outside of the house for a pleasing
appearance. Others created strikingly
modern buildings like Spain's entry. It
was covered with a moving roof that kept its solar panels pointed toward the
The winning entry came from the
Technical University of Darmstadt, in Germany. The design of its house stood out from all the others. It looked like a black cube. Tabea Huth helped design the
German entry. She shared its secret with
TABEA HUTH: "Most of the people
who come along here didn't notice that we have solar panels around the
façade. They thought it's just glass."
In fact, the outer surface of the
German entry was covered with solar panels. Because of this, the house was able to create more electricity than any other
Judges rated ten areas of design and use. Entries were judged on their architectural
qualities. They were also judged on
their marketability, engineering and lighting design. Other areas included how well the teams
communicated their ideas.
Each team had to create a
design that could keep the inside of the house at a temperature of between twenty-two
and twenty-four degrees Celsius. Hot
water had to be available throughout the day. Teams were also required to operate appliances like washing machines and
dishwashers during the competition.
had an operating home entertainment system. The designs had to show that the sun could power the electronic
equipment people depend on for both work and play.
second place winner came from the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. This house required
less energy and limited waste better than any other design. The walls were built extra thick to save heat
and energy-efficient appliances kept energy use low.
Monson is a student at the University of Illinois.
BRITTA MONSON: "I think the most
important thing about the house is just how much energy it really does
conserve. And how the systems that we
have designed for the house and we've used for the house how efficient they are
and how little energy they use."
Illinois team led for much of the competition. But with fewer solar panels, they fell behind the German team on the
most important requirement: energy production. Both teams, however, were able to provide more
than enough energy to meet the requirements of the competition. They even produced surplus electricity.
year, the solar decathlon will be held in Madrid, Spain. Then, in two thousand eleven, the Solar
Decathlon will return to Washington.
there is a new activity on the National Mall in Washington. An observatory opened recently at the
Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. About two thousand people visited the Public
Observatory Project in the first two weeks after it opened.
The project honors two thousand
nine as the International Year of Astronomy. This year also marks the four hundredth anniversary of the first
recorded astronomical observations with a telescope by Galileo.
Historians say the
Italian scientist and mathematician may not have been the first to get a good
look at the moon and planets. But he
probably was the first to let the world know about it.
new observatory is the home of a forty-centimeter telescope. The telescope weighs about one thousand three
hundred sixty kilograms. It is on loan
from the Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory for two years.
visitors are surprised that the Public Observatory Project operates only during
daytime hours. They are even more
surprised when they learn how much they can see during the day.
DeVorkin works for the National Air and Space Museum. He says visitors using the telescope have
seen bright stars.
DAVID DEVORKIN: "The nicest thing is you can still see
their colors. There's enough contrast so
that you can tell the difference between a red star and a blue star and show
people that stars have colors. All of
that you can do during the day."
DeVorkin says the observatory is meant to appeal to visitors who have not been
interested in astronomy before. He says
one way of doing so was to provide a fully-equipped telescope. He says he dreamed of placing just such an
instrument on the National Mall.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Mario Ritter and Jerilyn
Watson. Our producer was Brianna
Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for more news about science in
Special English on the Voice of America.