This Week’s Science Blog: Remember When I Used to do a Weekly Science Blog?
According to research at the University of Warwick, the sun may have the potential to superflare. What’s a superflare? It’s supercool. Superflares are like solar flares, only thousands of times more powerful. According to the lead researcher at Warwick, Chloe Pugh, if the sun were to superflare, pretty much all of earth’s communications and energy systems could fail. Radio signals disabled, huge blackouts, all that fun stuff. But according to Pugh, the conditions needed for a superflare are extremely unlikely to occur on the sun.
But how did they actually figure out that it is possible for the sun to superflare? Using NASA’s Kepler space telescope, the researchers found a binary star, KIC9655129, which has been shown to superflare. The researchers suggest that due to the similarities between the sun’s solar flares and the superflares of KIC9655129, the underlying physics of both phenomena may be the same.
The sun is amazing. This is amazing.
From the description: “NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) keeps an eye on our nearest star 24/7. SDO captures images of the Sun in 10 different wavelengths, each of which helps highlight a different temperature of solar material. In this video we experience images of the Sun in unprecedented detail captured by SDO. Presented in ultra-high definition video (4K) the video presents the nuclear fire of our life-giving star in intimate detail, offering new perspective into our own relationships with grand forces of the solar system.”
I’ve never watched a full episode of Rick and Morty, but this particular scene may change that.
NASCAR Racing with Neil Armstrong
Alright, analyze this dream:
So I’m outside this huge NASA building—like where they store the shuttles—and I’m hanging out with some guy who I’m apparently friends with in the dream but who I can’t really see. We’re loitering around outside for a little while and then Neil Armstrong comes out and tells us to go away because he’s going to get into trouble if we get caught.
Other Guy suddenly has a spray can in his hand and we’re both trying to convince Neil to graffiti the outside of the building. He keeps refusing and we keep insisting, to the point where we’re calling him a chicken and a coward for not joining in on our fun.
Finally, when it’s clear he won’t graffiti, Other Guy says, “Okay, fine, if you won’t play with us out here, we’re going to have a drag race!” He points behind him toward a huge NASCAR-like track with a bunch of drag racers on it. In the dream, we know that we’re not going to drag race with the cars but are going to do like an actual NASCAR race with them.
Neil protests this, too, but eventually gives in. He’s afraid of the racecars, though, because he’s never been in one. “This is not like landing on the moon,” he says as we drag him over to the track. “This is complicated.” So Other Guy and I agree to do a test run together in the same car while Neil watches from the sidelines to see how it’s done.
We get in one of the cars and Other Guy’s saying, “See, now let this row of cars pass you first so that it doesn’t look like you’re cheating. The last thing you want is for it to look like you’re cheating. You don’t want to be first.” He was saying this very emphatically and with a lot of emphasis on the words cheating and first. All the while he kept looking back at Neil and gripping the steering wheel really tightly.
Then I woke up.
Thoughts? I wonder if Other Guy was Buzz Aldrin and he was upset about Neil Armstrong being first on the moon instead of him. Maybe he thinks Neil cheated his way down the ladder somehow.
See the Light
I’d like to think that if I ever decided to start completely over with this schooling business*, I’d like to work to become a heliophysicist or a helioseismologist, because the sun is a freaking amazing thing. Want some evidence? Check it:
Our star is a badass.
*Something I wouldn’t ever rule out, knowing me.
This Week’s Science Blog: Shuttle Show
I’m sure a bunch of you have seen this already, but it’s a pretty spectacular thing so I’d like to put it up here.
Shuttle program stats and info:
- 135 flights total between the five shuttles (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour)
- Longest flight: 17 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes, 18 seconds (Columbia)
- First lunch: April 12, 1981 (Columbia)
- Last launch: May 16, 2011
- Total earth orbits: 21,158
- Says Wiki: “Each vehicle was designed with a projected lifespan of 100 launches, or 10 years’ operational life.”
Now sit back and watch some launches, if you haven’t already done so.
TWSB: Planetary Perturbers: Space’s Version of Peer Pressure
So this is pretty awesome: apparently NASA’s found a Jupiter-sized planet that orbits its sun in the opposite direction of the sun’s rotation. No, this isn’t like Venus rotating in the opposite direction of the other planets…this is a planet revolving its sun in a direction that supposedly defies physics.
Wait, how in the hell…?
Let’s start with how solar systems are formed. First you need a huge cloud of particles. The collapse of this cloud and the result of the pull of gravity causes the cloud to begin to spin. As it spins, the densest part of the cloud condenses and forms a sun. Less dense parts condense into smaller balls of matter and become planets.
Now it makes sense, since all these stars and planets and such arose from a single spinning cloud of debris, that the balls of matter would all be either rotating (the sun) or orbiting (the planets) in the same direction, the direction of the original spinning cloud.
So how the heck could a planet single itself out and rotate in the opposite direction?
NASA scientists suspect that the change in rotational direction is actually due to the influence of a planet external to the solar system containing the rebel revolver. They suspect that the opposite-orbiting planet originally revolved around the sun in the correct direction. However, it was also close to another planet, most likely a giant, that was slightly further away from the sun. Thus, it was stuck in a sort of gravitational tug-of-war. Its gravitation interacted with the giant planet’s gravity, with each pass between the giant planet and the sun causing a decrease in the angular momentum in the planet in question.
As the planet began to lose its momentum, it began spiraling in towards its sun (since momentum is what keeps planets from just falling into their suns). But because its plunge to near certain doom gives the planet some additional angular momentum in the opposite direction of the sun’s rotation. This additional momentum causes the planet to stabilize and establish a new orbit—one in the opposite direction of the rest of the solar system.
And how freaking crazy is that?
TWSB: “Space Debris”
Today NASA is celebrating 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch. How? By announcing the final resting places of four retired spacecrafts: Enterprise, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis.
Apparently there’s been quite a lot of vying over who gets the retired shuttles—21 official proposals were submitted to NASA, some with petitions 150,000 signatures strong behind them, others with plans to construct dedicated buildings to house the shuttles.
In the end, though, NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced that the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, a wing of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the California Science Center, and the Kennedy Space Center won out for the Enterprise, Discovery, Endeavor, and Atlantis, respectively.
Smaller shuttle artifacts, like fuselage trainers and commander seats, are being offered to various other museums, according to NASA. And those museums may be better off financially when it all comes down to it—the four winning spaces will have to find room and money to house these 170,000 pound, 122 feet long giants.
Totally worth it though, right? I’d definitely hang with a shuttle if I got the chance.
TWSB: Super Moon = Super Lunacy
You know what the best part of This Week’s Science Blog is? How insane people get over the smallest things.
Well, largest things.
Hold on, let’s start again.
On March 19th, the moon will be the closest to the earth it’s been in 18 years. This particular lunar perigee is also special because the moon will also be full that night. Moon enthusiasts (lunatics?) are calling the event an “extreme supermoon,” and of course you’ve got the conspiracy people saying that the closeness of the full moon will lead to—what else?—terrestrial Armageddon.
While scientists have indeed shown that earthquakes are actually more frequent when the moon is closer to the earth, particularly when it is lined up with the sun (owing to the greater gravitational tug-of-war for the earth between the moon and the sun) and historic years involving supermoons have had worse weather, the dudes at NASA remain calm and assert that “there’s nothing really special about this.”
The moon will be closer to earth than it’s been in the last 18 years, true, but NASA scientist Dave Williams says that it’s closer by about half a percent more than usual—which is fairly trivial.
Even so, I’m hoping that the night of the 19th will be one of those super rare cloudless nights here in Vancouver so I can see the brightest, biggest moon we’ll have seen in 18 years.
TWSB: Sometimes Lunacy is the Answer
Way back when these weekly science blogs started (or maybe it was before that?) I discussed the issue of the helium shortage we’re experiencing here on earth. Within the last year, thanks to this shortage, the price of the isotope helium-3 has risen from $150 per liter to $5,000 per liter. Nearly all of the helium on the planet exists within a single storage area within 250 miles of Amarillo, Texas. And that’s probably the least safe place for any rare commodity (‘cause Texans, man, Texas…). Helium experts (assuming such people exist) are afraid that we’ll run out of helium completely within 20 years if we remain at our current consumption rate.
Oh crap! What do we do?
Answer: mine the hell out of the moon.
After bombarding the moon in 2009, NASA scientists found—among other things—that the lunar soil is very rich in helium thanks to solar winds showering it for however long the moon’s been around (I think it’s like 4.4 billion years old or something, but don’t quote me on that). Not only does our natural satellite have helium, but it also apparently contains a bunch of rare earth elements (common-moon elements?), including europium and tantalum, both of which have applications in solar panels, hybrid cars, and other green energy applications. Right now China is the biggest exporter of such elements, but is currently reducing such exports, indicating the possibility of a shortage.
So yeah. It’ll be interesting if we ever decide to actually utilize the moon as an orbiting mine and if doing so would ever be a cost-effective procedure. The funniest part is the fact that NASA utilizes—guess what? helium—to pressurize space shuttle fuel tanks.
TWSB: To the Ends of the Earth…Er, Solar System
First off, if I were to ever become a supervillian, I’d want my name to be Heliopause. Just ‘cause.
Voyager 1, launched 33 years ago, is now approaching the edge of our solar system.
Scientists know the craft has reached such a point by observing a change in the particles that surround it. These particles, emanated by the sun, are, instead of travelling outwards, are flowing sideways. This means that the particles are shifting in order to go down the tail of the heliosphere, which is indicative of Voyager 1 making the jump into interstellar space.
Around the heliosphere is the heliosheath, in which temperatures rise and wind speeds slow to zero. Scientists are measuring particle speeds around Voyager 1 to be nearly zero, thus they believe this is where the craft is. It is suspected that it will make the cross-over in the next few years.
The initial goals for Voyager 1 (and its sister Voyager 2) was to survey the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune (and Pluto, too, back then I guess). This was accomplished back in 1989. Now it’s breeching the outermost reaches of our star.
How freaking cool is that?
Today’s song: Guilty Pleasure by Cobra Starship
TWSB: BLACKER THAN THE BLACKEST BLACK TIMES INFINITY
NASA’s telescopes and cameras in space require the use of a super black paint dubbed Z306 in order to reduce photon contamination by absorbing erratic light that ricochets off the instrument components.
However, Z306 is apparently not black enough, as NASA scientists have been working towards and have finally developed a new material that is like 10 times blacker than Z306 and is made of carbon nanotubes grown on titanium. The big breakthrough here, aside from the DARKNESS THAT IS THE NEW BLACK, is the fact that the scientists were able to develop a material that would allow the nanotubes to stick effectively to it, therefore reducing the risk of them scratching off under wear.
You can read more about it here. Sounds pretty snazzy, if you ask me.
Today’s song: Creep by Scala & Kolacny Brothers
This Week’s Science Blog: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s those guys at NASA being dorks!
So what does NASA do with an old airplane? For once, this week’s science blog doesn’t involve lasers, but it DOES involve a big ass telescope.
That’s right, an old jumbo 747 jet is being used to house a telescope called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) which is used to make observations at altitudes lower than space-based telescopes (obviously) but above the range of many of the atmospheric effects that impact ground-based telescopes.
Ground level telescopes are affected by the absorption of infrared wavelengths by water in the atmosphere. The SOFIA jet gets around this by finding the middle ground between dealing with this IR wavelength issue and the problems of getting a giant telescope into space (and then adjusting it).
Apparently they’ve been working on this project for over 14 years. They installed the telescope by cutting an 8-foot hole into the side of the jet and essentially fastening some sort of garage door covering over the lens that, when opened, doesn’t appear to affect the performance of the jet.
The scope also weighs 17 tons. Pretty snazzy.
Today’s song: Don’t Ask Me by OK Go
Waiter! There’s a dead and alive cat in my box!
HOLY CRAP, so I was screwing around on StumbleUpon this afternoon and I came across some random page of NASA’s. Multiple clicks later and I came to this.
I had totally forgotten that we’d attempted to do this in fifth grade. I say “attempted” because at 4 days prior to the competition we realized that we were short a motor (we foolish children and our lack of inventory-taking skills!) and thus were forced to withdraw. No, I don’t know how exactly we had the majority of our rover finished before we realized “hey, we kinda need a third motor,” but we did. Probably because one of our members had to quit because he failed like 5 reading quizzes in a row and he was the one in charge of our Lego kit. We would have won, too, ‘cause my transmission was killer and Daniel built an exceptionally awesome rock scooper (that’s a highly technical NASA term).
So yeah. Nostalgia.
I also found a random flash drive this afternoon that had this previously un-blogged-about album cover contained on it:
Also, I need to get super hyper again in time for my calc final. I don’t remember a single damn thing I wrote on my test on Monday, but I did pretty well.
Today’s song: Hemvägen (Live Nyhetsmorgon 2007) by Detektivbyrån