(Photo via YouTube)
Don’t take the cinnamon challenge. That’s the advice from doctors in a new report about a dangerous prank depicted in popular YouTube videos that has led to hospitalizations and a surge in calls to U.S. poison centers.
Maggie Koerth-Baker has written a chemistry and combustion rundown of ammonium nitrate, the chemical believed to be behind the devastating blast yesterday in West, TX: “Ammonium nitrate fertilizer isn’t really a dangerous explosive (most of the time)”.
Ammonium nitrate, a primary ingredient in synthetic fertilizers, isn’t itself very explosive. Accidents involving it are actually pretty rare, although incidents like the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing in 1995 have given it quite a reputation. However, like anything, it’s the dose that makes the poison.
When it burns, it creates its own oxygen, which can lead to a runaway fire. In those runaway fires, the chemical can bind together from pellets into a massive plug, allowing it to trap huge amounts of hot gases beneath the weight of burning material. You can guess what happens when hot gases build up with no place to go.
More details at Boing Boing. Stay strong, West, TX.
I have long been fascinated by gamma-ray bursts (or GRBs). These are incredibly violent events: It’s like taking the Sun’s entire lifetime energy output and cramming into a single event that lasts for mere seconds! The energy emitted is so intense, so bright, we can see GRBs from a distance of billions of light years.
Gamma rays themselves are just a form of light, like the kind we see, but with huge energy; each photon is packed with millions or billions of times the energy in a single photon of visible light. Only the most energetic events in the Universe can make them, so if we detect a burst of them coming from the sky, we know something literally disastrous has happened.
We know GRBs come in many flavors. Some last literally for milliseconds, while others stretch on for minutes. We also know different events can cause them, too. Short ones seem to come from merging neutron stars, ultra dense compact objects left over after stars explode. The longer ones occur when massive stars explode, leaving their cores to collapse. In both cases, the huge blast of high-energy gamma rays signals the birth of a black hole.
But astronomers were recently surprised to find a third type of GRB, one that lasts not for minutes, but for hours. Whatever these objects are, they don’t just flash with light, they linger, blasting out far, far more gamma rays for far, far longer than was previously thought. What could do such a thing?
Several ideas were put forth, but new observations provided the linchpin: an ultra-long-duration GRB occurred on Christmas Day in 2010, and its distance was found to be a soul-crushing 7 billion light years away, about halfway across the visible Universe! This left only one possible candidate for the progenitor: a hugely massive star, one so big it dwarfs the Sun into insignificance.
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.
“Two radioactive goldfish were found swimming in a juice pitcher of nuclear reactor water in an underground steam tunnel at an Ohio power plant. Investigators are baffled as to how the radioactive fish remained unnoticed in the ‘secure’ facility.
Investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and officials of the plant, which is operated by FirstEnergy Corp., have been looking through surveillance tapes to try to identify who was responsible for leaving the radioactive goldfish in the tunnel on May 2.
They believe one of the 700 employees and contractors who work at the plant smuggled the fish into the facility, Jennifer Young, spokeswoman for FirstEnergy Corp., told AP. The fishy tale has served as an embarrassment for the plant, which has already come under scrutiny for a case in which four contractors were exposed to life-threatening hard radiation in 2011. The plant has also been scutinized for a serious lack of security.
“Last year, Perry got into trouble with the NRC about weaknesses preventing unauthorized access to the plant,” David Lochbaum, a spokesman at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Plain Dealer. “Goldfish are not authorized to be inside the tunnel, yet they were there. And Perry cannot determine how they got there or who put them there.”
Officials believe the goldfish were taken through the front door and likely hidden in a plastic bag in a worker’s pocket. All workers are required to pass through security, which detects metal and bombs but not fish and water. Investigators believe the fish were left unnoticed in the tunnel for several days before scaffolding crews discovered them and filed a report. But despite looking through surveillance tapes for more than a week, little progress has been made in identifying the perpetrator(s).
Both of the 1 ½-inch-long fish died shortly after their discovery, but officials at the plant claim that neglect and starvation may have been the cause – not radiation. Chemists found that the fish were admitting small amounts of radiation, but not enough to put anyone at risk, including the fish.
“They did not have exposure to enough radioactivity to hurt them,” Young told The Plain Dealer. “It was probably due to lack of care before they got to the plant. The radiation could not have killed them.”
Lochbaum said the story might sound funny to some, but that smuggling live animals into the plant shows a serious lack of security. The story has caused some to recall an episode of the “Simpsons” in which Blinky, an orange fish, has a third eye due to his exposure to radiation.
“What might be an amusing account of misplaced goldfish today could become tomorrow’s nightmare story if someone with an axe to grind, another Timothy McVeigh type, places a bomb instead of two goldfish in Perry,” Lochbaum told The Plain Dealer, referring to the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.”
Asteroid 1998 QE2 to Sail Past Earth - Nine Times Larger Than Cruise Ship. [The orbit of asteroid 1998 QE2. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]
“On May 31, 2013, asteroid 1998 QE2 will sail serenely past Earth, getting no closer than about 3.6 million miles (5.8 million kilometers), or about 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon. And while QE2 is not of much interest to those astronomers and scientists on the lookout for hazardous asteroids, it is of interest to those who dabble in radar astronomy and have a 230-foot (70-meter) — or larger — radar telescope at their disposal.
‘Asteroid 1998 QE2 will be an outstanding radar imaging target at Goldstone and Arecibo and we expect to obtain a series of high-resolution images that could reveal a wealth of surface features,’ said radar astronomer Lance Benner, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. ‘Whenever an asteroid approaches this closely, it provides an important scientific opportunity to study it in detail to understand its size, shape, rotation, surface features, and what they can tell us about its origin. We will also use new radar measurements of the asteroid’s distance and velocity to improve our calculation of its orbit and compute its motion farther into the future than we could otherwise.’
The closest approach of the asteroid occurs on May 31 at 1:59 p.m. Pacific (4:59 p.m. Eastern / 20:59 UTC). This is the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. Asteroid 1998 QE2 was discovered on Aug. 19, 1998, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program near Socorro, New Mexico.
The asteroid, which is believed to be about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) or nine Queen Elizabeth 2 ship-lengths in size, is not named after that 12-decked, transatlantic-crossing flagship for the Cunard Line. Instead, the name is assigned by the NASA-supported Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., which gives each newly discovered asteroid a provisional designation starting with the year of first detection, along with an alphanumeric code indicating the half-month it was discovered, and the sequence within that half-month.
Radar images from the Goldstone antenna could resolve features on the asteroid as small as 12 feet (3.75 meters) across, even from 4 million miles away.
‘It is tremendously exciting to see detailed images of this asteroid for the first time,’ said Benner. ‘With radar we can transform an object from a point of light into a small world with its own unique set of characteristics. In a real sense, radar imaging of near-Earth asteroids is a fundamental form of exploring a whole class of solar system objects.’”
- Continue reading the article here.
- More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is available here, here, and via Twitter here.
- More information about asteroid radar research is here.
- More information about the Deep Space Network is here.
ISS Astronauts Returned Safely to Earth.
“After inspiring all of us on Earth, Commander Chris Hadfield and crew have finally re-joined us here. The Soyuz space capsule landed safely at 10:31 PM EDT in Kazakhstan. Hadfield had spent 144 days on the ISS, 2,336 orbits around the planet and totaled up around 62 million miles. That’s a lot of miles!
The Soyuz capsule landed vertically, which is the preferred position. The crew, which includes Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, are back on Earth and reportedly all feeling good as they re-adjust to the gravity. Marshburn was one of the astronauts who performed the awe-inspiring emergency spacewalk to fix the leak of ammonia coolant two days ago.
The landing of the capsule comes a little over three hours since the capsule undocked from the ISS. It marks the end of the ISS’ Expedition 35 Crew in space. The crew will head over to the medical tent to get all properly tested and fixed for normal Earth life. Or as normal life can be in the eyes of men who were in space.” via Gizmodo
“On Sunday, Hadfield handed over command of the space station to Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov.
As part of his personal farewell to the space station, Hadfield released a video of his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which NASA said is the first music video made in space.” via CBC
UPDATE: The International Space Station appears to be fixed!! via From Quarks to Quasars
On Thursday, the astronauts on the International Space Station noticed small white flakes floating off into the cosmos. Normally snowflakes are a beautiful thing. On board the ISS, seeing snowflakes was quite scary, as it is a sign of possible equipment failure. As it turns out, the ISS was leaking ammonia into space. The ammonia is used to cool the electronics, which provide electricity to the station’s many systems. Consequently, the situation was tense. The crew reports, along with images captured of the leak and data received by Mission Control in Houston, confirmed that the rate of the ammonia leaking from this section of the cooling system was increasing. The early analysis indicated that the leak rate could result in a shutdown of this cooling loop in as little as 48 hours.
However, NASA has just reported that the precarious ammonia leak has now been fixed. Cassidy and Marshburn removed and replaced an apparently faulty 260-pound (118kg) pump controller box. After installing the spare pump on the P6 truss, power was turned on, and the system appeared to be working properly. The space-walkers observed the pump and did not see any ammonia leaking from the pump.
Installing the new pump controller box marks NASA’s 254th spacewalk by U.S. astronauts. It was the 168th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, totaling 1,061 hours, 9 minutes. Moreover, this was the 124th spacewalk out of station airlocks.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will host a post-spacewalk press briefing at 4:30 p.m. You can get updates, including watching the live stream of the press conference in the links provided.”
An amazing new photo from a telescope in Chile has captured the most detailed view yet of a green glowing blob 3,300 light-years away from Earth.
Image: This photo shows the glowing green planetary nebula IC 1295 surrounding a dim and dying star. It is located about 3300 light-years away from Earth. Credit: ESO
The new image, released today (April 10) by the European Southern Observatory, shows the planetary nebula IC 1295 like it has never been seen before. This picture, which ESO scientists dubbed “ghostly,” marks the first time the nebula has been imaged such unprecedented detail.
“It has the unusual feature of being surrounded by multiple shells that make it resemble a microorganism seen under a microscope, with many layers corresponding to the membranes of a cell,” officials from the European Southern Observatory wrote in a statement.
Mistake leading to discovery: Recreational drug use
Lesson learned: Too much of a good thing can sometimes be, well, a good thing
For decades Nitrous oxide was considered no more than a party toy. Finally, in 1844, a dentist came upon the idea after witnessing a nitrous mishap at a party. High on the gas, a friend of fell and suffered a deep gash in his leg, but didn’t feel a thing. In fact, he didn’t know he’d been seriously injured until someone pointed out the blood pooling at his feet.
Photo from: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Livin’ on ur plants, harvestin ur sunshine
The ability to gather sunlight and convert it to useable energy has been the plant kingdom’s longstanding trump card (along with some bacteria and fungi) when it comes to “greatest evolutionary adaptation known”. Unlike the rest of the tree of life ,photosynthetic organisms have billions of years worth of free energy to count on. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of solar food. The evolution of the animal world actually wouldn’t have happened if photosynthetic organisms hadn’t started pumping oxygen into our atmosphere in the early years of Earth.
For the first time, scientists have found evidence that an insect shares this ability. Some pea aphids, like the one pictured above, can produce plant-like orange pigments called carotenoids. In addition to chlorophyll, these are the same compounds that leaves use to harvest light, and also why we get those beautiful browns and oranges in autumn.
The aphid seems to have “stolen” the genes from a fungus, and then through some non-photosynthetic mechanism, is using the pigments to create ATP, life’s energy currency.
This isn’t the first time a larger organism has developed the ability to harvest sunlight! A sea slug was discovered a few years ago that borrowed photosynthetic genes from microscopic algae. Looks like the branches on that tree of life cross over more than we thought.
More at Scientific American.
Estonian first satellite ESTCube-1, built by students, will be launched on Saturday May 4th with Vega space rocket.
ESTCube-1 was built in Estonia by students from Tartu University, Estonian Aviation Academy, Tallinn University of Technology and University of Life Sciences.
The project started in 2008. The main mission of the satellite is to test the electric solar wind sail, a novel space propulsion technology that could revolutionize transportation within the solar system.
The satellite is a cubesat measuring 10 x 10 x 10 cm and weighing 1.05 kg.
“In a world first, Canada’s Chris Hadfield unveiled a new money note — while in space. Hadfield spun a fiver before the camera Tuesday as part of a ceremony to announce new $5 and $10 bills that will be distributed in Canada this year. The $5 bill will feature two pieces of Canadian technology that helped build the station: Canadarm2, which is a mobile robotic arm, and the hand-like Dextre.
The bill also shows an unidentified astronaut. That said, the choice to use Hadfield in the press conference was likely not a coincidence: Hadfield assisted with Canadarm2′s installation in 2001 when he became the first Canadian to walk in space.
“These bills will remind Canadians, every time they buy a sandwich and a coffee and a donut, what we are capable of achieving,” said Hadfield, who is in command of Expedition 35 on the International Space Station. His comments were carried on a webcast from the Bank of Canada.
The money note travelled with Hadfield in his Soyuz when he rocketed to the station in December, the Canadian Space Agency told Universe Today. [Image Credit: Bank of Canada (webcast)]
The polymer notes are intended to be more secure than the last generation of bills issued in Canada. Polymer $20, $50 and $100 bills are already available, but the smaller currencies won’t hit consumer pocketbooks until November.”
A man in Austria developed a cataract shaped like a star in his eye after he was punched, according to a report of his case.
The 55-year-old went to his doctor because his vision in that eye had progressively worsened over the previous six months, according to doctors who treated the man.
The patient said he’d been punched nine months earlier, the doctors wrote in their report.
Talk about seeing stars, sheesh.