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- Dutch woman reaches South Pole...in a tractor
- Is This What Really Killed the Dinosaurs?
- How to Watch Tonight's Explosive Geminids Meteor Shower
Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:47 PM PST
Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:42 PM PST
Everyone moans about the high price of airline tickets and sometimes they're very high. Like now, when non-stops between New York and Los Angeles in July are running about $600+, whereas May flights could be had for less than $300.
But summertime, like Thanksgiving, is a peak travel season when demand soars and airlines are happy to raise prices, knowing we'll pay that fabled "whatever." But we've also seen studies that suggest airfares have risen fairly sharply over the past several years, as much as 12 percent.
So here's the question: Is air travel becoming a perk of wealthy elites, and common folk need not apply? Not yet. Are we getting closer? That depends.
The price of a plane ticket rests on what I call the four pillars of pricing: competition, cost of fuel, capacity or seat supply, and, as always, demand for air travel. Pay special attention to that first one because competition is disappearing.
Why? Airlines are disappearing. AirTran makes its final flight Dec. 28, then vanishes into Southwest. Continental seems like a distant memory, but its merger with United only took place a few years ago, as did Northwest's with Delta. Coming up, US Airways goes away once the details of its marriage to American are all wrapped up.
But mergers mean more than a shiny new logo and fresh coat of paint on a plane. They often involve adding new routes to big cities while smaller and not-so-small cities see routes cut. Bottom line: Less competition generally means higher ticket prices.
In the meantime, the cost of fuel, currently just over $100 per barrel, remains high, though nowhere close to the nearly $150 price we saw in 2008. Next, capacity or seat supply is right where the airlines want it, which is down more than 10 percent from the pre-2008 fuel crisis. You can tell by asking yourself this question: How many empty airplane seat have you seen lately? When airlines can fill even middle seats, airlines are in the catbird seat.
Remember, just a few years ago, investing in an airline was considered nuts; today, the profits are rolling in.
For the time being, demand remains fairly decent in a tepid economy. If you doubt this, go back to the empty seat question. So the next question is: Are we willing to pay any price for travel, at any time? For some, yes, but for most of us the answer is a resounding no. Just look at recent attempts by airlines to raise prices: Except for those aimed squarely at the business traveler (whose boss usually picks up the tab), airlines failed to find traction with most hike attempts.
In other words, the thumb on the scale of air travel equity is slowly but surely sliding from passengers to airlines. Yes, there is still an occasional crumb for consumers, like the Department of Transportation's proposed rule that fees be shown as "every point" in an airfare transaction, which sounds good, and I'm absolutely in favor of fee transparency, but at every step of an online airfare purchase? All I can picture is some poor schmo thumbing down his smartphone, laboriously trying to get past inches and inches of densely packed, convoluted fee pricing information, just to find out what his ticket will cost. Carpal tunnel syndrome, anyone?
Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:25 PM PST
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Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:23 PM PST
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Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:19 PM PST
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Posted: 13 Dec 2014 08:10 PM PST
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Posted: 13 Dec 2014 07:56 PM PST
Excerpt from time.com
It wasn't just an asteroid
At the start of the 1980s, the question of what forced dinosaurs and huge numbers of other creatures to become extinct 65 million years ago was still a mystery. By the decade’s end, that mystery was solved: a comet or asteroid had slammed into Earth, throwing so much sun-blocking dust into the air that the planet plunged into a deep-freeze. The discovery of a massive impact crater off the coast of Mexico, of just the right age, pretty much sealed the deal in most scientists’ minds.
But a second global-scale catastrophe was happening at much the same time: a series of ongoing volcanic eruptions that dwarf anything humans have ever seen. They were so unimaginably powerful that they left nearly 200,000 square miles (518,000 sq. km) of what’s now India buried in volcanic basalt up to a mile and a half thick. And the gases and particulate matter spewed out by those eruptions, argue at least some scientists, could have played a big role in the dinosaurs’ doom as well.
How big a role, however, depends on exactly when the eruptions began and how long they lasted, and a new report in Science goes a long way toward answering that question. “We can now say with confidence,” says Blair Schoene, a Princeton geologist and lead author of the paper, “that the eruptions started 250,000 years before the extinction event, and lasted for a total of 750,000 years.” And that, he says, strengthens the idea that the eruptions could have contributed to the mass extinction of multiple species.
Schoene and his co-authors don’t claim volcanoes alone wiped out the dinosaurs; only that they changed the climate enough to put ecosystems under stress, setting them up for the final blow. “We don’t know the exact mechanism,” he admits. Volcanoes emit carbon dioxide, which could have triggered an intense burst of global warming, but they also emit sulfur dioxide, which could have caused global cooling. “What we do know,” Schoene says, “is that earlier mass extinctions were caused by volcanic eruptions alone.” The new dates, he and his co-authors believe, will help scientists understand what role these volcanoes played in the dinosaurs’ demise.
If there was such a role, that is, and despite this new analysis, plenty of paleontologists still doubt it seriously. The dating of the eruptions, based on widely accepted uranium-lead measurement techniques, is not an issue, says Brian Huber, of the Smithsonian Institution. “That part of the science is great,” he says. “It moves things forward.”
And those data, Huber says, make it clear that the extinction rate for the 250,000 years leading up to the asteroid impact wasn’t especially large. Then, at the time of the impact: whammo. The idea that volcanoes played a significant role in this extinction event keeps coming up every so often, and in Huber’s view, “the argument has gotten very tiresome. I no longer feel the need to put any energy into it. It’s from a minority arguing against overwhelming evidence.”
Posted: 13 Dec 2014 07:26 PM PST
Thank you, tiny space rocks. Because of you, the entire population of planet Earth will be treated to one of 2014's most spectacular celestial displays. The Geminids meteor shower is the most active of the annual meteor showers—by a long shot—and it's just about to peak.
Tonight, the shower might produce as many as 120 meteors per hour (though back in 2011, the Geminids hit a peak rate of 198 meteors per hour). Compare this count to the second most abundant shower, the Perseids, which take place in late August and top out at around 60 meteors per hour.
The annual December display is largely due to asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a three-mile wide chunk of rock that crosses the paths of all the inner rocky planets and travels closer to the sun than any other named asteroid. As ol' 3200 heats up close to the sun during its 1.5-year orbit, it expels materials and forms a trail much like a comet (indeed, it is sometimes referred to as a "rock comet"). But that's not the full story. Recent observations have shown that 3200 mostly expels dust as it is baked by the sun. And while this periodic "dusting" does help replenish the debris field, it's not enough material to account for all the Geminids' activity.