Arizona Horizon Banner

June 18, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Krauss on Science

  |   Video
  • World famous Arizona State University Physicist Lawrence Krauss makes his monthly appearance on Horizon to talk about the latest in science news.
  • Lawrence Krauss - Arizona State University, Physicist
Category: Science   |   Keywords: krauss, science, ASU, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ASU physicist and bestselling science writer Lawrence Krauss appears on "Arizona Horizon" each month to discuss the latest science news. Tonight we touch on black holes, mass extinction, and apparent toboggan marks on Mars.Good to see you.

Lawrence Krauss: It's great to be here in cool Arizona.

Ted Simons: Speaking of cool and climate and stuff --

Lawrence Krauss: Exactly.

Ted Simons: -- there's new information on what 12,000-some-odd years ago something may have come close to hitting or hit -- what's this new information?

Lawrence Krauss: The new information is studying below the surfaces of the earth, rocks, and discovering that rocks melted, producing what are called these carbon ferrules that really only happen during this extreme heat. A large object hit the Earth or came close enough to produce enough heat to melt a lot of rock. There were a lot of extinctions around then, woolly mammoths. The claim is mainly it wasn't the impact itself that caused these extinctions, but the climate change after it. When there are large volcanoes on Earth, the climate changes. When there's a lot of particulate matter thrown up in the atmosphere, that changes the weather. The argument is that these ferrules, seen in four different continents, would say something happened to heat up rock enough to melt it. Also, threw up enough stuff in the atmosphere, million tons or some large amount --

Ted Simons: I think that's what it was --

Lawrence Krauss: -- that it blocked sunlight enough that it changed -- first there was a glacial period, then it was getting warmer. Then suddenly for a little while it got cold for a century or so. The argument is that material thrown up in the atmosphere made it colder and a lot of animals didn't survive. And the interesting thing is, people were around then, too.

Ted Simons: People survived, but the woolly mammoth shuffled off the mortal coil. Why does all that stuff going into the air mean severe climate change for a hundred years? Can't we get rid of that? Doesn't the wind blow?

Lawrence Krauss: The circulation time for the wind to get rid of stuff can be many years. The interesting thing is, there was a recent study in a related vein which should concern us. On a totally different vein, India and Pakistan have both increased their nuclear arsenals. Even a small nuclear war between India and -- small, nuclear weapons -- would produce enough stuff in the atmosphere that for a decade there would be climate change. A billion people would die because of starvation around the world. Especially when the material is small, and in this case there was a cold spell for 100 years. I think the fact that humans lived through it is a very interesting thing. Actually my colleague Curtis Marion and others have studied a cave in South Africa where humans occupied for a 100 thousand years. Humans have had to evolve. We are used to thinking -- in fact, many people don't even realize that we're producing climate change right now. But independent of humans and climate change, over a period of a century there's natural climate change. You have to be able to adapt to it or, like the woolly mammoth, you're history.

Ted Simons: The researchers here said we basically have three options for life You can relocate, downsize or die. We must have done one of the first two.

Lawrence Krauss: Over human history migrations have indicated that humans have in fact adapted very well. Having a brain that allows you to plan is really important. In fact, you know, the chicken and egg is an interesting question. But as fish died in South Africa, other foods had high protein, which meant that people could stay on top of the changing food environments. If your entire existence consists of looking for a certain type of food, you're cooked. Well, in this case you're frozen.

Ted Simons: Researchers call this the last gasp of the last Ice Age. What is the normal Earth temperature? Or is there a normal Earth temperature?

Lawrence Krauss: It varies over geological time. There are well-known cycles, Milanovich cycles, over periods of thousands of years. It can happen over centuries with small variations. The earth changes over time. Over millennia you can have periodic changes in temperature. That's not what's happening right now. The change happening right now is happening over decades, exactly correlated to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. People say it's a natural phenomenon. It is true there are natural cycles. But other factors which we are only now studying. They happen over longer times. There was an Ice Age well before this 13,000 years that started to warm up over a period of several thousand years. Then there was this blip where things got cold again for a century or so. That's where certain animals weren't able to adapt. If things change for a long time, you have a lot longer for things adapt. If there's a sudden change, in a period that's short compared to biological time, then species can't evolve and natural selection doesn't play an active role, and you see a lot of extinctions. We're seeing those now that far exceed those of that time. Human industrial activities that produced a bigger mass extinction than that did.

Ted Simons: Are there adaptability lessons from 13,000 years ago that we can apply today?

Lawrence Krauss: We're going to have to adapt. We're already seeing it, in New York Mayor Bloomberg talks about new plans to protect New York against new storms. It's going to happen, the sea level rises, the storms get stronger. There's no doubt that climate change is not going to wipe out humans. But we have to adapt because -- and in a complex society where small events can produce vast economic changes, we have to be prepared for these things. So we may not have a commentary or we may, but we are doing a pretty good job on our own.

Ted Simons: We have apparently tracks on sand dunes on Mars.

Lawrence Krauss: It's surfers, sand surfers. They look like toboggan marks on Mars. It's one of the many things people think is showing life. You see these marks and you wonder, are they streams of water. Water is the thing we're looking for on Mars, because where there's liquid water, generically there seems to be life. These toboggan runs sort of go down and suddenly stop with a little indent. New studies have shown that it's probably dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, that basically surged down the sand dunes. You've played with dry ice. It's a carbon dioxide, it freezes and goes directly to a gas form to a solid form, something called sublimation. It doesn't go through a liquid form at 110 degrees below Fahrenheit. You can get the stuff and, because it goes from solid to gas form, you put it on a surface and as it starts to sublimate, it basically creates a cushion, just like those air hockey tables. You have a small block of carbon dioxide, it creates a little air hockey table below it. Those patterns seem to be evidence of carbon dioxide. It tells you there's probably dry ice melting on the surface of Mars. Unfortunately, it also means that many of these surfer patterns or toboggan runs are not due to water, which is important if we want to know about life. There are some patterns on Mars that look like they were due to liquid. These aren't. We all want there to be water on Mars. We have to be honest, and if these things aren't water, it reduces one possibility. It would be great to look, see if conditions are there. We'll take what nature gives you and try and figure it out.

Ted Simons: I think would it be great to find air hockey on Mars.

Lawrence Krauss: Yeah.

Ted Simons: Goodness gracious. Yhey think they have solved it.

Lawrence Krauss: It looks just like dry ice. I was thinking we should have brought some dry ice and played some air hockey.

Ted Simons: We talk about black holes a lot. Seems like some scientists are making a big deal. 26 new black holes found in the Andromeda galaxy.

Lawrence Krauss: Black holes are fascinating. There are big questions about how and when they form and how they are related to the galaxies themselves. Pretty well every galaxy we know of appears to have a large black hole at its center. There's a million solar mass black holes, or what appears to be a million solar mass black hole in the center of our galaxy. We refer to them by -- they move around in this area where there's nothingthing, and we find out it's a million solar masses, but it's so small that our physics calculations tell us it must be a black whole—something so dense that light can't escape from it. There will be black holes in many different sizes. Some stars, we calculate, when they die, they collapse into what's called a neutron star. One idea, a nucleus, say, of an atom. At that point it stops and produces a supernova explosion. If the star is massive enough, we can calculate it won't stop there, it'll keep collapsing—nothing can beat gravity and will eventually become a black whole. Whether there are 10 solar mass or 20 solar mass black holes, you can look for them by watching material fall into them. And because material falls into a neutron star, it achieves a certain speed and emits a certain type of radiation. But if it collapses into a black whole, recent calculations. It gets near the speed of light and emits what are called hard X-rays more efficiently. Astronomers can try and look at the X-ray emissions. They are called black holes. It's one way to say that maybe there are a lot more black holes in our galaxy than we thought.

Ted Simons: The way they were found is the exciting part of the story.

Lawrence Krauss: Yeah, a lot of it depends on the theory, because you have to try and model what happens to gas if it falls into a black hole.

Ted Simons: I always try to ask about a black hole. It boggles my mind. I once asked what's behind the black hole, I don't know if it's a good question or not. Here's another one. Is a black hole forever? Does that part of space just not exist?

Lawrence Krauss: It's a region separated from all the rest of the universe, because nothing can get out of it. Some black holes are more exotic than others, they are fascinating to think about being that dense. They would be forever except for something discovered by Steven Hawking, who discovered that -- not that diamonds aren't forever, but black holes aren't forever. Even though classically nothing can get out of a black hole. When you apply the laws of quantum mechanics, basically material can leak out of a black hole and the black hole will evaporate, heat up and get hotter and hotter and hotter. If Steven's right, everyone -- a solar black hole will exist for trillions and trillions of years. A smaller one evaporates in a minute or so.

Ted Simons: Can there be a galaxy inside a black hole?

Lawrence Krauss: In some galaxy we may find a billion solar mass black holes, or billion solar mass black holes. That's almost the mass of a galaxy. That much material has fallen in and is inside. What happens at the very last stages? We don't know. Black hole physics is at the forefront of our study of nature right now. The whole universe could be a black hole. If there's enough matter to cause the universe to recollapse, we would be living inside of a black hole.

Ted Simons: Lawrence, let's talk about time next month. Thanks for being here.

Voter Registration Ruling

  • The United States Supreme Court ruled that part of an Arizona voter registration law violates the constitution. The court held that Arizona can require proof of citizenship when registering to vote using a state form, but cannot require the same proof when using a federal form. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the head of elections for Arizona, will discuss the impact of the ruling on voting.
  • Ken Bennett - Arizona Secretary of State
Category: Law   |   Keywords: law, ruling, law, voter,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck down part of an Arizona voter registration law. The Court held that Arizona can require proof of citizenship when registering to vote using a state form. But that same proof of citizenship is not required when using a federal form. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the head of elections for Arizona, is here to discuss the impact of the ruling. What are your thoughts on this ruling?

Ken Bennett: We were disappointed the Supreme Court did not rule directly that Arizona could do what we're trying to do. The more we've read the case, the more we realize they were outlining how to resolve the issue. Go over to the Federal Voting Commission and ask them for permission to outline the requirements that Arizonans said they wanted to have implemented, to the state-by-state instructions that come with the federal form. I think we eventually will get to where we wanted to be. But the Supreme Court decided they weren't going to grant that relief themselves, they said go over here. If they don't give you what you want, probably you can come on back. I think a lot of courts usually want you to exhaust your administrative remedies before coming to them and asking them to finally make an order.

Ted Simons: Before we get to those -- and there's another option I don't think you're quite as excited about, but we'll talk about that as well. Why should Arizona be involved in federal voting requirements?

Ken Bennett: The states get to decide what the requirements for becoming a voter in that state are. Every state in one form or another has adopted the voting requirements. In Arizona, citizens said back in 2004 that we want to verify citizenship when a voter registers to vote. You get to the polls, we want to show I.D. and things like that. The Constitution allows states to identify what the requirements of being an eligible voter are, age or whatever it might be, residency in the state, and in Arizona's case, proving citizenship.

Ted Simons: But the courts seem to say, that's unless the federal government says this is the way you register to vote.

Ken Bennett: Then the courts also say, yes, we allow the states to decide who gets to vote. But we have some say in how federal elections are run. If candidates for federal office are on a ballot, the federal government is going to weigh in in certain ways, to make sure those locations are conducted in accordance with what they believe are standard minimum requirements. And how you conduct the election, they don't want you to go beyond what their requirements are. Besides who gets to register to vote -- in fact, they said the power to establish voting requirements would be meaningless unless the states had the power to enforce those requirements. And therefore it would be unconstitutional. They said it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to tell Arizona ultimately that we can't have the ability to verify a person's citizenship, if that's the law of our state.

Ted Simons: But when it comes to federal elections again, kind of a different ballgame, with that in mind there's some thought out there that the state should go ahead and enact some kind of law in which if you want to register and use that federal form, go ahead. You can only vote in a federal election. Is that viable?

Ken Bennett: The counties, I've talked to them recently, that would set up a bifurcated set of registered elections. If you've registered this other way and haven't proven citizenship, you could only register and vote in the federal races. That would be a nightmare, I'm told by all of the 15 counties, in trying to keep this duplicated or bifurcated system of elections. So I don't think that's the way we want to go down. I think, as the court told us in the case, they said go down to the Federal Elections Assistance Commission, which has existed for 10 or so years, and ask them to put this requirement in their state-by-state instructions that they provide. And then once -- if they do, then we've got what we wanted. If they don't, then come back to us and ask if maybe we need to force them to do that.

Ted Simons: Didn't the state previously ask for this, and the commission voted 2-2, so nothing changed?

Ken Bennett: We asked back 2006 or 2007 in for this requirement to be put in after Prop 200 was passed. The commission had two Democrats on the commission at the time, two Republicans, they deadlocked 2-2. The Attorney General at the time, Mr. Goddard, chose not to appeal it. Essentially what the court said today, they don't think the commission can deny that. I've signed the letter as of today to send a re-application back to the EAC. Even though they don't have any commission --

Ted Simons: Who's on the commission? No one's been approved.

Ken Bennett: During the Obama administration there have been no commissioners appointed.

Ted Simons: I think the confirmation process is the problem there.

Ken Bennett: I don't think he's even nominated any commissioners to fill the seats on this commission. However, the State of Louisiana submitted an application similar to Arizonans. They had something in their voter registration process where they wanted additional information from the voter to be attached to the federal form. And that got approved just last year by the acting director of of this commission, even though there's no commissioners. If they have approved for Louisiana, requiring voters to provide additional information to comply with their laws, we think we have a good chance that they will do the same for Arizona.

Ted Simons: And again, Justice Scalia basically said, come on back and try again.

Ken Bennett: Yeah.

Ted Simons: Which is interesting. Last question here, kind of a different look at this. We will continue to look for ways to ensure only eligible citizens are casting ballots. I think that was a quote from you. Why is this necessary? How many incidents have we seen of noneligible citizens casting ballots?

Ken Bennett: Well, what we have seen is we have -- in comparing vote data with other states, we have found people voting twice in states, in the same election. They are voting in Arizona and another state at the same time. We have counties that receive hundreds of jury questionnaire forms every month from voters who say, I'm not a citizen of the United States, therefore I don't have to serve on a jury. But then they take them over to the voter registration database and they check the opposite box, yes, I was a citizen of the United States when I registered to vote. The incidence of illegals voting might be a few. But we don't want any. If we had any policy or procedure in Arizona that turned away one legitimate voter, people would go bananas, as they should. Any illegitimate vote cancels out a legitimate vote, so we want to make sure that everyone that votes is legitimate.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, the critics will say minorities, elderly, the students are often those who have to go an extra yard because of proof of citizenship and identification. You may be denying -- not necessarily, but de facto denying their participation.

Ken Bennett: That's why we have provisional ballots and all kinds of procedure. If you show up at the polls and want to vote, you get to cast a ballot. You have so many days to come back and show that you are who you are, and that you reside here as a citizen. Those are in place. We don't want illegitimate votes canceling them out, either.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Ken Bennett: Thanks.