Infographic: the National Energy Guarantee at a glance

The Conversation

Madeleine De Gabriele, The Conversation; Michael Hopkin, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

The federal government today announced its long-awaited energy policy. As expected it has scrapped the Clean Energy Target proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, and has instead adopted a National Energy Guarantee, which focuses on ensuring electricity supply and putting downward pressure on energy prices.

Here’s what you need to know:

The ConversationRead more: How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target

The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Madeleine De Gabriele, Deputy Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation; Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Deputy Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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At last, we’ve found gravitational waves from a collapsing pair of neutron stars

The Conversation

File 20171015 1505 1tylrql.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Artist’s impression of the collision of two neutron stars, the source of the latest gravitational waves detected. National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet, Author provided

David Blair, University of Western Australia

After weeks of rumour and speculation, scientists have today finally announced the death spiral of two neutron stars as a source of gravitational waves.

It’s among the biggest news for science in decades, because the findings help shed light on many aspects of astrophysics, including the origins of cosmic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts and of some heavy elements in the universe, such as gold.

The latest detection has scientists excited because most predictions had favoured the detection of gravitational waves from coalescing pairs of neutron stars. Yet the first and all subsequent detections prior to today’s announcement had only come from collisions of black holes.

Read more: We beat a cyber attack to see the ‘kilonova’ glow from a collapsing pair of neutron stars

The first detection

It was back in 2015 when the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors heard the whoop of the first gravitational wave signal ever detected.

The sound of two black holes colliding.
LIGO163 KB (download)

That came from the collision of a pair of black holes in the distant universe about 1.3 billion light years away. Suddenly we knew that our detectors worked; suddenly we knew that the black holes of Einstein’s theory are really out there. Suddenly the dream of gravitational wave astronomy became reality.

The first strong signal was so surprising that the international teams at the LIGO observatories spent weeks trying to work out if someone could have secretly put signals into the data!

Since then there have been more black hole signals, but there was no sign of the predicted neutron stars.

An artist’s conception of two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet)

The neutron star connection

Physicists have long considered neutron stars to be perfect sources of gravitational waves.

Neutron stars are balls of neutrons, about the size of a city but weighing in at about 1.4 times the mass of our Sun.

The first neutron star was discovered by Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967, and in 1974 Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor found a pair of neutron stars spiralling slowly together in the Milky Way, a discovery that led to their Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993.

Caltech physicist Kip Thorne – one of three people awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics – led a campaign to build huge laser interferometers, optimised for detecting the final death spiral of a pair of neutron stars.

Barry Barish (another of this year’s Nobel Prize winners) internationalised the LIGO observatories, bringing Britain, Germany and Australia into the collaboration.

More than just a wave

During the decades of development of gravitational wave detectors, astronomers had become fascinated by vast bursts of gamma rays coming in from the distant universe at the rate of about one every day.

Israeli physicist Tsvi Piran proposed in 1989 that some of these bursts could be created by coalescing neutron stars. If this was the case, then bursts of gravitational waves would be accompanied by bursts of gamma rays.

Many astrophysicists modelled the violent coalescence of merging neutron stars. Some of the superdense neutron rich matter would be flung into space, where it would be relieved of the massive pressure inside the neutron stars.

Uncompressed, it would go off like a vast nuclear fission bomb, creating a slew of heavy elements such as gold and platinum. Within minutes a hot fireball would shine brightly, powered by the decaying radioactivity of the new formed elements.

A new signal detected

Advanced LIGO‘s two 4km detectors in the United States have been operating since 2015. The 3km Advanced Virgo detector in Europe came online on August 1 this year.

Europe’s Virgo becomes the third detector in the hunt for gravitational waves. The Virgo collaboration

Many optical telescopes had signed up to receive any alerts from LIGO and Virgo.

Meanwhile, NASA’s orbiting gamma ray telescopes Fermi and Swift continued their continuous monitoring of the skies. Billions of dollars worth of astronomical hardware was poised and ready in August 2017.

Thursday August 17, 2017, was the day our detectors registered a slowly rising siren call that lasted for a minute and finished with a sharp crescendo.

It wasn’t the brief whoop of a pair of large black holes but the much slower death song of a pair of neutron stars with total mass about three times the mass of the Sun. Two seconds later the Fermi satellite detected a short gamma ray burst. Within minutes the source direction had been roughly localised.

The alert goes out

Within 30 minutes alerts went out to telescopes across the planet. Telescope schedules were interrupted, and before long a bright new object was found in galaxy NGC 4993, seen in the Hydra constellation, and visible in the southern hemisphere in August.

This simulation shows the final stages of the merging of two neutron stars.

The new object decayed away exponentially over a few days as might be expected for a radioactively powered nebula.

NGC 4993 is 130 million light years away. The arrival of gravity waves and gamma rays within 2 seconds of each other tells us that to a precision of a part in a million billion, both types of wave travel at the same speed.

Read more: After the alert: radio ‘eyes’ hunt the source of the gravitational waves

The fact that two completely different types of radiation, one that is a ripple of space itself, and the other that travels through space, should travel at exactly the same speed could seem astonishing, yet it is exactly what Einstein predicted.

The event is a treasure trove of astrophysics. From one faint gravitational sound, a momentary burst of gamma rays and the faint fading glow of exploding nuclear matter, we have the first direct measurement of the distance of galaxies.

This is because gravitational wave signals directly encode distance. And suddenly we know how gamma ray bursts are created. And suddenly we know that all our gold, our rings and treasures, was probably created in neutron star collisions.

The ConversationIt will take many years to fully explore the data, and meanwhile more and more data will flood in as we continue to open the gravitational wave spectrum with more observatories on earth and in space. The new era of multi-messenger astronomy has begun!

David Blair, Director, WA Node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, and the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The chances at birth of living to 100 over the last 100 years in the UK by gender

Utopia - you are standing in it!

The Queen is going to have to send a lot of telegrams in 100 years’ time; should be pretty busy a mere few decades away.

Source: How likely are you to live to 100? Get the full data | News |

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Room for honest disagreement on tax policy?

Utopia - you are standing in it!

Too much of tax policy is debated with pistols drawn at ten paces. Each side accusing the other of ignorance or being steeped in moral turpitude, and preferably often both.

Far too much time is spent feuding over the incentive effects of taxes. If you inspect closely the history of the warring sides, they all agree that incentives matter. If you tax something, you see less of it; if you cut taxes, you will see more of it. The difficulty is the advocates for various causes are disappointingly selective about when they admit this is so.

Incentives do matter

Thomas Piketty could not be more honest about the impact of a higher top tax rate. Piketty welcomes the strong incentive effects of high marginal tax rates!

Why? Piketty wants to use high taxes to put an end to top incomes. He wants few to earn a large income and if…

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Whale breach

Why Evolution Is True

I don’t know who took this video or how they got it, but it’s amazing, with the camera put in just the right place at the right time:

Now why do whales do this? (I think this is a humpback.) The best hypothesis to date, at least for this species, is communication; read about it here.

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Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell

Books & Boots

To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox. (The Prevention of Literature)

Orwell wrote hundreds of essays, reviews and articles which, since his death in 1950, have been repackaged in a number of formats. This selection dates from 1957 and contains some of his greatest hits. It’s notable that most of these come from the war years. By this stage, after a decade of writing so-so novels and the three great works of reportage (Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia) he had found his voice and writing style – a frank, common sense left-wing persona conveyed in attractively straightforward prose.

Orwell wrote a staggering number of book reviews, theatre reviews, film reviews, as well as a large number of opinion pieces, besides…

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Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?

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Three areas to reform federal-state financial relations

The Conversation

John Freebairn, University of Melbourne

While this week’s draft report from the Productivity Commission didn’t recommend a major overhaul of how GST is allocated among the states, it did recommend “a longer term goal of reform to federal financial relations”.

Three areas of Commonwealth-state financial relations warrant reform.

The first is to broaden the GST base to provide adequate funds for projected growth of state outlays on health and education. The second is to improve the incentives and rewards for states to reform their distorting taxes. The third is to reduce the overlaps and duplication of Commonwealth and state governments in the supply of health, education and other services.

These and other reform ideas were flagged in background papers for the proposed Reform of the Federation White Paper, which was disbanded in 2015, and by many others.

Read more: What an equitable GST reform package should look like

A key characteristic of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and state governments in the Australian federal system is the dominance of the Commonwealth as the collector of taxes. It receives over 80% of all tax revenue, while the states spend about 45%.

On average, the states depend on Commonwealth transfers for nearly half of their funds. About half of these transfers involve redistribution of the GST as untied grants to the states.

The distribution of the GST funds between the states is designed to be equitable. A higher per capita share goes to states with relatively high costs of providing services (because of, for example, sparse populations) and relatively lower capacity to raise their own taxes (due to less mining activity or lower property values, for instance).

The Commonwealth provides the other half of the transfers – on average about a quarter of state funds – as tied grants to the states for specified programs in health, education, housing, infrastructure and others.

1) Broadening the base

A looming structural budget problem for the states is that GST revenue is projected to increase at a slower rate than national income. At the same time, the funding required to maintain current education, health and other programs is likely to rise faster than national income.

The relatively slow growth of GST revenue arises because the current GST tax base exemptions, particularly for health and education, are growing as a share of household expenditure. An additional short-term risk is that the household savings rate will increase as interest rates rise, reversing the recent rapid growth in household debt, to meet higher mortgage interest rates.

Read more: What can other countries teach us about GST reform?

Reforming the GST by adopting a comprehensive tax base with minimal special exemptions, along the lines of the New Zealand model (which has a broader base and a higher rate), would provide a larger and more robust supply of funds for growing state expenditures.

Some of the additional revenue raised will be required to increase social security rates and reduce income tax rates so that the overall tax burden remains roughly the same. At the same time, a comprehensive GST base will contribute to national productivity by removing tax distortions to household spending decisions and by funding reductions in income and other more distorting taxes.

2) State tax reform

Many of the current state taxes heavily distort decision-making, which results in lost productivity. For example, conveyance duties (also known as stamp duties) on property sales deter some households and businesses from selling and buying property when circumstances change – when they change jobs, family size etc.

Numerous reviews have identified state tax reforms to reduce these distortions. Examples include replacing conveyance duty with a broad-based property tax and broadening the payroll tax base. An annual property tax would remove the disincentive to buy and sell property, but would collect roughly the same revenue.

Other proposals require reform across both tiers of governance. These include replacing the Commonwealth fuel excise and state taxes on motor vehicles, with explicit charges for road use, congestion and pollution. These better signal the costs of travel to motorists and result in better use of the transport network.

Read more: Reforming GST is the key to productivity growth

Effective reform of state taxes is more likely under the banner of cooperative Commonwealth and state negotiations than reliance on the initiative of individual states. As noted in the Productivity Commission draft report, if individual states replace conveyance duties with a broad-based property tax, this will likely reduce the share of GST allocated to the reforming state. This is a disincentive to change.

As a general point, some of the benefits of a larger and more productive economy driven by reform of state taxes accrue to the Commonwealth as a larger corporate and personal income tax base.

3) Expenditure decision-making

Intervention by the Commonwealth in state expenditure decisions (on education, health, housing and infrastructure) leads to inefficient and more costly decisions, a lack of accountability to the electorate, and wasted public service talent in blame-shifting and game-playing.

Simply reforming the allocation of the GST among states is not going to change the adverse effects of current Commonwealth-state financial arrangements.

Fundamental reform of the federation should reduce the overlap of decision-making on government expenditure, and more broadly reconsider the allocation of expenditures and responsibility for expenditures between the different levels of government.

For example, responsibility for education, health and housing should be given to a specific level of government. Tied Commonwealth grants, which restrict decision-making by states, should be phased out. These could be replaced, for example, with states getting a share of income tax as happens in other federations.

Read more: Broader base, not a higher rate the answer for GST reform

The ConversationIn the end, there are many opportunities to reform Commonwealth-state financial relations, to re-energise the Australian economy to generate higher living standards for all. But we should start by broadening the base of the GST (New Zealand style), reforming state taxes, streamlining expenditure responsibilities across governments, and providing states with a share of income tax revenue.

John Freebairn, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

I’ll be busy writing today, so posting may be light. To quote Maru the cat, “I do my best.” Today’s animal photos were sent by reader Richard Dahl. I can’t find a relevant email, so the IDs may be all he sent.

I need more photos, please. Send ’em in!

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias):

Male mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos):

Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta):

Male Wood duck (Aix sponsa):

And a landscape photo from Stephen Barnard in Idaho, sent September 30:

When I took the landscape photo this afternoon I was listening to elk bugling.

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#LstTxt&Tstmnt: an unsent text message can count as a will, in the right circumstances

The Conversation

File 20171012 31395 jc8on.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An unsent text message can be a will, an Australian court has decided. Dragon Images/Shutterstock

Brendan Gogarty, University of Tasmania

The unsent text message read:

“Dave Nic you and Jack keep all that I have house and superannuation, put my ashes in the back garden with Trish Julie will take her stuff only she’s ok gone back to her ex AGAIN I’m beaten . A bit of cash behind TV and a bit in the bank Cash card pin ….



My will”

Based on those few sentences, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland recently decided in Re Nichol that the property of a deceased man should go to his brother and nephew, rather than his widow.

Read More: Tweets from the afterlife: social networking with the dead

Of course, the man’s text was not a conventional will, and it certainly didn’t meet the formalities traditionally required by law.

The Court’s acceptance of this “document” shows that the law can keep up with technology. But it shouldn’t be cause for complacency, especially among generations who are already unlikely to write a will or, indeed, to write anything down on paper at all.

Will do it later

Most people are familiar with the notion of will: it sets out our wishes about who should inherit our property, or who will take on certain responsibilities after we die. For instance, who will bury our body or take care of our pets? In law, these are called your testamentary intentions.

Figures vary about how many Australians have a “valid” will, but it’s estimated that 45% do not. Older people are also more likely to make one than younger generations.

Given that young people are used to recording their thoughts and wishes in electronic form, they are potentially less likely to leave behind a formal written will, at least in a conventional format.

According to the traditional rules on inheritance or succession law, people without wills die “intestate”.

If you make a will, it could save a lot of time and trouble. timyee/Shutterstock

The problems with intestacy

The rules relating to the division of assets and duties following a death intestate are formulaic and usually dictated by how close blood relatives are to the deceased.

This can lead to conflict, particularly for those whose close relationships aren’t always recognised by the state, like same-sex couples.

Sometimes people die intestate because they didn’t make a will in the right legal form. So to avoid intestate contests, all Australian states and territories have introduced some form of “dispensing” legislation.

This allows the court to accept a document that states the testamentary intentions of a person to be a valid will – but only if the court is satisfied that the person really intended that “document” to be a will, among other factors.

Australian law has been relatively good at keeping up with changes in the way we document things. In Queensland, for instance, when a law refers to a document, it is taken to include:

any disc, tape or other article or any material from which sounds, images, writings or messages are capable of being produced or reproduced.

The Queensland Supreme Court has previously led the way, holding that a note written on an iPhone can be a “document” for the purposes of making a will.

In Re Nichol, it continued this trend by holding that an unsent text message can also satisfy the definition of “document”.

When an SMS is a will

A written but unsent text message could simply be a partial thought, or something we haven’t committed to sending. So how could an unsent text operate as a will?

To work this out, a few things need to be scrutinised: the language, its contents, and the context. In other words, whether the person writing it had the capacity and intention to make it their will.

In Re Nichol, the immediate implication was that because the text was not sent, the deceased didn’t want it to operate as a will.

However, the deceased had concealed his decision to commit suicide, but had kept the mobile phone with him containing the draft message so that it would be discovered when he was found. The Court considered that he deliberately didn’t send it because he didn’t want anyone to know what he was about to do.

In other words, there was a legitimate explanation for the text being unsent.

Digital is not always better than analogue

The result in Re Nichol does not mean there’s no need to make a formal will. The surviving family may have to go through a lot of stress if all they have to rely on are electronic communications stored on your phone, computer or in the cloud.

Read More: Digital death is still a problem.

There is one more question about electronic communications that has not yet been fully considered: what about the possibility of fraud or alteration to the message?

The old-fashioned ritual of signing a will in front of witnesses was a useful bulwark against fake wills, or the will being changed without the testator’s knowledge. In the future, the courts must require high levels of proof that the will is genuine and “un-hacked”.

Elise Histed, an expert in succession law, contributed to this article.

The ConversationIf this article has raised concerns for you or anyone you know, call Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.

Brendan Gogarty, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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