Satellites orbiting Earth (2013)
This Week in Science - May 13 - 19, 2013:
- Magnetar at black hole here.
- Cloned human stem cells here.
- Cell calculators here.
- Music matched to color here.
- Scientists agreeing on climate change here.
- Remote-piloted plane here.
- Earth’s core here.
- Bright lunar explosion here.
- American asteroid sampling here.
- Hofstadter butterfly effect here.
- Electric shocks aid math skills here.
- Printable solar panels here.
A Woman of Art and Science
April 2nd marks the birth of a very important female scientist that was ahead of her time. The artistic and scientific explorations of German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) helped pioneer the way for other women in science. Enterprising and adventurous, Merian raised the artistic standards of natural history illustration and helped transform the field of entomology, the study of insects.
In 1670, she and her husband moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first set of illustrated books. In preparation for a catalogue of European moths, butterflies, and other insects, Merian collected, raised, and observed living insects, rather than working from preserved specimens.
At the age of 52 and divorced, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, without a male companion. Merian spent the next two years studying and drawing the indigenous flora and fauna within their natural habitats. Forced home by malaria, Merian published Insects of Surinam, her most significant book, in 1705. The lavishly illustrated book forever established her international reputation as an accomplished woman of science.
Balancing Rocks in Central Oregon
“Geologists explain that the formations are the result of the aging, tilting and erosion of two layers of consolidated volcanic ash, known as tuff.
These ash flows originated from the Cascade volcanoes to the west many thousands of years ago. The top layer of tuff was tougher so to speak than the bottom layer, so as the ground tilted and cracked and the softer bottom layer was eroded by wind and water, top-heavy rock pedestals remained.
Discovered by surveyors way back in the 1850s, the unusual rocks were known to only a handful of people for many decades. They remained hidden in a forest of pine and juniper until a forest fire in 2002 denuded the area. Visible now from Forest Service roads and from boats on the popular Lake Billy Chinook below, the rocks are visited more frequently. Sadly, the formations pose an irresistible temptation to immature vandals and a few of the pedestals have been toppled. Fortunately, most are far more massive, stable and durable than they appear.”— Brad Goldpaint
“The Hinode telescope captures some amazing views of last week’s annular solar eclipse.
Last week’s annular solar eclipse was only visible from cruises in the Pacific Ocean, but the international fleet of solar-observing spacecraft had a great view. The Hinode telescope, which orbits Earth and observes the sun in X-ray, optical, and extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, captured several eerie views of the event on Friday.
It wasn’t an annular eclipse from orbit, however: The moon just skims the sun from Hinode’s perspective. The telescope passed through the eclipse path four times, because Hinode loops Earth about every hour and a half. But it only captured three of the four eclipses, because in one of the orbits, both the Earth and moon were blocking the sun, according to Patrick McCauley, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
That is also why this view is truncated halfway through:
See an awesome time-lapse video of a lunar eclipse here.”
It’s hard to believe, but this bushy, glowing object is a section of a ladybug leg. Ladybugs, also known as ladybirds, are readily available to either clear your gardens of aphids or make your wine taste really funny. It was photographed by Andrea Genre of the University of Turin, Italy.
(Image: Andrea Genre/Nikon Small World)
Over a millenia ago Earth witnessed an explosion in the heavens, that explosion was later discovered to be a supernova. Now, new data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory adds to the awesome factor of SN 1006 and supernovae like it, which provides new details about the remains of this exploded star. As noted in Chandra’s official site:
“The Chandra data provides the best map to date of the debris field including information on important elements expanding into space.”
A new image of SN 1006 from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory reveals this supernova remnant in exquisite detail. By overlapping ten different pointings of Chandra’s field-of-view, astronomers have stitched together a cosmic tapestry of the debris field that was created when a white dwarf star exploded, sending its material hurtling into space. In this new Chandra image, low, medium, and higher-energy X-rays are colored red, green, and blue respectively.
The Chandra image provides new insight into the nature of SN1006, which is the remnant of a so-called Type Ia supernova . This class of supernova is caused when a white dwarf pulls too much mass from a companion star and explodes, or when two white dwarfs merge and explode. Understanding Type Ia supernovas is especially important because astronomers use observations of these explosions in distant galaxies as mileposts to mark the expansion of the Universe.
Time for a science-tastic, carboniferous Episode Extra™ to accompany my latest YouTube vid!
In the most recent episode of It’s Okay To Be Smart on YouTube, about how we all share the same air, the #1 question from People Who Are Watching was about a number I mentioned in the beginning: We hoomanz are emitting 33-34 billion tons of CO2 a year. If the atmosphere is so dang big, is that amount of CO2 a lot?
A few people were subsequently all “Wait a sec, is Joe referencing climate change here?! Rabble rabble rabble!!!” Congrats. You caught me. Guilty as charged. But there’s science on my side, and you know what they say about science:
Where the carbon comes from: the primary people-caused CO2 sources are fossil fuels, deforestation, and cement production. Since 1850, over one thousand billion (AKA “a trillion”) tons of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere. We put about 34 billion tons of CO2 into atmosphere in 2011, the latest year I could find data. These are not debatable facts, minus a few decimals of statistical error. We can measure them, we have the technology.
Where does it go? Only 55% of this is removed by the oceans (dissolved CO2 and photosynthetic organisms) and the plants in our jungles and forests. Fifty years ago, as much as 60% of that CO2 would have been removed by oceans and plants. That means that not only are we increasing the amount of CO2 we emit every year, but plants and oceans (the carbon “sinks”) can’t keep up with the rate that we are adding it to the atmosphere.
Sure, as more carbon is put into atmosphere, plants and plankton can reproduce and take more of it up. But if we pump it out faster than they proliferate, it’s still a net loss. Oceans might actually be less able to absorb CO2 as the world warms (it’s simple chemistry, think about warm carbonated soda).
Then we get to the warming part. CO2 makes up less than one tenth of one percent of Earth’s atmosphere. So it can’t be that big of a deal to increase that by like 0.01% right? Wrong. Sure, for every million molecules of air, only ~391 of them will be CO2, but carbon dioxide is an amazingly powerful molecular mirror for solar energy, reflecting it back down to Earth and heating our planet. The math is complex, but tenths of tenths of percent changes in CO2 concentrations can lead to full degree changes in global temperatures. This doesn’t even include the effects of methane, which is almost 1,000 times less abundant as CO2, but contributes a whopping 1/5th of greenhouse gas effects.
For more: A paper in PNAS about carbon emissions and carbon sinks. A summary of emissions, warming and greenhouse gases from NOAA. Finally, you might need this: How to talk to a climate skeptic.
“In the opening scenes of Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is dropped in the middle of an active volcano. His mission? To stop the volcano from exploding before it destroys everything in its path. His equipment? A suitcase-sized “cold fusion” device, designed to destroy the volcano — and nothing else.
Is this even possible? NG staffer Melody Kramer caught up with Dr. David Ferguson, (@volcanotweet) a volcanologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University to ask him about the possible ramifications of stopping liquid hot magma in its tracks.
Spock performs his mission while standing on a tiny platform inside the volcano, surrounded by liquid magma. Would a non-half-Vulcan be able to survive standing on a platform in the middle of an active volcano?
That lava would be something like 1100-1200 degrees Celsius. You’ve seen footage of people in silver suits next to lava fields. Outside of those suits, it would be far too hot. And one other thing you realize if you’re near lava is that it really stinks. There’s all sorts of noxious gases. I can’t speak for Spock, but without any kind of protective clothing and breathing devices, a human probably wouldn’t be able to survive.
Spock stopped the volcano with a “cold fusion device.” Is it possible to drop something in a volcano that would stop it from erupting?
There are examples of people who have tried to stop lava flows from harming anyone by dropping bombs on them. In the 1930s and 1940s in Hawaii, they tried to bomb some lava flows. They also tried this in Italy, at Mount Etna in 1992.
What’s the thought process behind bombing the lava flows?
When the lava erupts, it hardens around itself and forms a tube. The lava inside the tube is therefore insulated and can flow for several kilometers. So the thought was that if you drop a bomb on a lava tube, the bomb would smash the insulated tube and cool the lava.
Could anything bad happen as a result of bombing a volcano directly?
If you were to drop a bomb on a volcano, the best case scenario is nothing would happen. The worst, of course, is that the volcano would erupt. If you were to bomb a volcano in the right way, you would basically do the work for it, by fracturing the volcanic rock and allowing magma to escape.”
Jupiter’s moon Io, photographed by Voyager 2, 10 July 1979.
The end of this blog’s Io-thon follows on from yesterday’s post. The photos used in this gif were taken with longer exposures than yesterday’s, so there is a better contrast between Io and the background. Two volcanic eruptions are clearly visible in the top-left: I think that they are from Amirani and Maui. There’s also an eruption on the right-hand side, but as its only lit by reflected light from Jupiter, it requires a lot of brightening to see (NASA’s photojournal shows it here).
You can also see a volcano in the south, tall enough to stay in sunlight even as the surrounding areas fall into darkness.
Yesterday I mentioned the bright spot glinting near the equator. I asked Jason Perry (who used to write an Io blog) about it on Twitter and he said that it “looks like specular reflection off of glassy, cooled lava near Hi’iaka Patera.” So there you go.
Amazing NEW Periodic Table Song & Video!
If the Animaniacs and Science had a child, this would be it! Every element of the Periodic Table, sung, in order!
Do you know a mad scientist in training? A tiny Einstein? A miniature Mendel? A chibi Marie Curie?
Kids in grades K-8 can win $10,000 towards lab equipment for their school by entering our Science Challenge. Deadline extended to May 26th! Find the details on Stuff to Blow Your Mind.
Most of your body is younger than you are. The cells on the topmost layer of your skin are around two weeks old, and soon to die. Your oldest red blood cells are around four months old. Your liver’s cells will live for around 10 to 17 months old before being replaced. All across your organs, cells are being produced and destroyed. They have an expiry date.