Nov
14
2013

Folks have noticed, and asked about how the winds pick up shortly after sunrise and calm down after sunset. It is the daytime heating of the ground by the sun that leads to this difference between calm nights and windy days.

The wind usually increases with height above the surface. The wind several thousand feet above the ground is almost always stronger than that experienced near the ground. Friction is a force that causes the wind close to the ground to move more slowly. Friction decelerates the wind in the same way a rough road surface slows you down on a bicycle.

On many calm nights, there is still wind blowing far overhead. When the sun is up, it warms the surface of the Earth, which in turn warms the atmosphere above it. The warm air rises and the displaced air is replaced by the air above. These thermals mix up the air, bringing the faster moving air from above down near the surface. As the daytime heating goes on, more air from above is mixed down and the wind speed picks up.

When the sun sets, the ground cools down. This cooling ground conducts heat away from the air that it touches and so the air near the ground cools down, cooling faster than the layers higher in the atmosphere. This creates a stable area with cool air near the ground and warmer air above. As the word suggests, “stable” means it is difficult to move the air layer, keeping the fast moving air above from mixing down to the surface.

Of course, if there is a low pressure area in the region, the winds will blow day or night.

Super Typhoon Haiyan engulfing the Philippines: The super storm has reported sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts up to 225 mph!
Super Typhoon Haiyan engulfing the Philippines: The super storm has reported sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts up to 225 mph!Courtesy NASA
A massive tropical cyclone has been battering the Philippines since yesterday. Known as Typhoon Haiyan (Cyclone Yolanda in the Philippines) the super storm is said to be about 3.5 times larger than Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005, with sustained wind speeds of 195 miles per hour and gusts up to 225 mph. That's one powerful typhoon! It reminds me of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Reports on the number of deaths attributed to Typhoon Haiyan have been sketchy at best due to loss of communications in the area. Check out some of the amazing images at EarthSky.org.

This animated piece is a few years old but worth viewing. Here's more info from the Youtube page:

"Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea's two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Each nation gets a blip and a flashing dot on the map whenever they detonate a nuclear weapon, with a running tally kept on the top and bottom bars of the screen. Hashimoto, who began the project in 2003, says that he created it with the goal of showing"the fear and folly of nuclear weapons." It starts really slow — if you want to see real action, skip ahead to 1962 or so — but the buildup becomes overwhelming.“

Glowing ice cream
Glowing ice creamCourtesy Charlie Harry Francis
Thanks to a Chinese scientist's work at synthesizing the luminescence protein from jellyfish, a UK food creator, named Charlie Harry Francis has developed an ice cream that glows in the dark. Francis markets home-made ice cream confections (and contraptions) under the aptly named Lick Me I'm Delicious. The very act of licking the ice cream agitates "calcium activated proteins" within the concoction that causes it to light up in a luminescent sort of way. But before you dash out to your favorite ice cream parlor, keep in mind that one scoop of the glorious glowing glop will set you back about $220!

MORE INFO
Boing-Boing report

The human knee: a new ligament has been discovered in the leg joint.
The human knee: a new ligament has been discovered in the leg joint.Courtesy Andrew Scott
You'd think by now - after centuries of studying it - that we'd know everything there is to know about the human body. But this week surgeons at University Hospital Leuven in Belgium announced the discovery of a new ligament in the knee. Called the anterolateral ligament (ALL) the newly discovered body part attaches between the lower end of the femur and the head of the tibia, reinforcing the connection between the two bones. The unknown ligament came to light as the doctors investigated the causes of difficulties patients suffered during rehabilitation from ACL tears, a common injury among some athletes.

Interestingly, it was a paper written by a French surgeon in the 19th century that led the doctors to the ligament. The author of an 1879 paper postulated the ALL's existence but it took until now for it to be actually located. The two doctors who discovered it say the ligament exists in about 97 percent of all patients.

SOURCES and LINKS
Journal of Anatomy paper
ScienceDaily story

Hot stuff: New testing on a fragment of King Tut's mummy reveals his remains caught fire after being entombed in his sarcophagus.
Hot stuff: New testing on a fragment of King Tut's mummy reveals his remains caught fire after being entombed in his sarcophagus.Courtesy Jon Bodsworth
We've documented the travails leading to the demise of young King Tut many times here on Science Buzz. But headlines today just add more fuel to the King Tut woe fire (so to speak). Tests done on a small fragment of Tut's mummy that is held in Great Britain show that his mummy caught fire. And that fire, researchers believe, occurred after Tut was mummified and entombed in his sarcophagus through spontaneous combustion from the mixture of embalming oils, wrapping fabric and oxygen. A virtual autopsy done as part of this research also concludes that Tut died from being run over by a chariot. All in all, not a very good day of news for young King Tut.

Oct
31
2013

Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?
Tell me Ouija board: What is the science that makes you actually work?Courtesy Majail0711
Hey, it's Halloween. Do you have a seance to go to tonight after you finish your trick and treating?

And what's a good seance without a Ouija board? You know it's the quickest way to connect with the dead and find out those mysterious secrets that aren't accessible any other way.

It's been quite a while since I last touched a Ouija board. But I do remember being amazed how that little pad just skimmed across the board to give us answers to our questions. It's fun and mystical. And (SPOILER ALERT) it's all based on science.

The current issue of Smithsonian delves into the history and science behind the board. You can get all the details right here. Since the board's beginnings, the creators had insights into the ideometer effect. That's a fancy term for the automatic muscular movements that take place in our bodies without our conscious will or volition. It's like what happens to us when we cry during the sad part of a movie or flick away an annoying bug pestering us. People using a Ouija board are subtly moving the pointer around the board without realizing they are doing so.

Research conducted a couple years ago quantified what was happening. People were asked random fact-based questions that were challenging. Just hearing the questions and answering without a Ouija board, participants got about 50 percent correct, which was what researchers expected. But when participants were asked similar questions while seated at the Ouija board, that correct response rate jumped up to 65 percent.

The researchers account of the difference by people tapping into their non-conscious knowledge and using the ideometer effect to guide the Ouija board pointer across the board. And people actually do better answering questions on topics that they don't think they know the answer to than topics that they do.

So, if you do happen to find yourself sitting around a Ouija board tonight, be careful what you ask it. You might just get the answer to something you've been burying away in your mind for a long time!!!

Happy Halloween and feel free to share your observations here with other Buzz readers on the science of Ouija boards.

Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.
Compost for you: Moving from right to left, you can see how microbes deconstruct organic garbage into compost.Courtesy Thor
That's right. There is something rotten, smelly, nasty happening right in the lobby of the Science Museum of Minnesota. We've got compost on display. You can see the three phases of compost from fresh organic garbage to midway decomposed waste to finished compost. And you can learn all about the science that makes it possible to turn trash into ground-enriching treasure. Here's the link to the web content that accompanies this exhibit. Oh, and don't worry about the smell. The case the compost is presented in has special filters to keep any nastiness from getting out!

Oct
28
2013

Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.
Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.Courtesy Lockheed Martin
From a NASA press release:

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Fascinating video showing magnetic solar filament bursting from the Sun's surface and its rippling after-effects. Here's more about it from NASA:

"A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

These images were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths.

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.“