Tell us about something that happened today in history, and make it relate to current science.
There were northerly winds over North Atlantic in the months prior to the RMS Titanic leaving port. These winds likely played a role in pushing icebergs farther south than normal and into the Titanic’s path.
When the Titanic left port in Queenstown, Ireland on Thursday April 11, 1912, it sailed under brisk winds from the north-northwest at 15-20 knots and a temperature of about 50 degrees. Two days earlier, well to the west in Boston, MA, a few thousand fans shivered in the cold and snow flurries as the Red Sox beat Harvard University 2-0 in the first game ever played at Fenway Park. On April 12 the winds were from the west-southwest at about 15 knots and the noon temperature was about 60 degrees. As the ship continued westward, the skies got cloudier as a weak cold front approached. The noon time temperatures on Saturday April 12 were still around 60 degrees, but another cold front (associated with the previous Fenway snow flurries) was to the west and north of the ship. As the Titanic passed through the second cold front on Sunday April 14, the winds switched to northwest at 20 knots. The noon temperature was around 50 degrees but by 7:30 pm the temperature was 39 degrees. On Sunday, nighttime temperatures dropped below freezing and the skies cleared and the winds calmed. A large Arctic air mass was now over the area, along with a clear, star lite night, subfreezing temperatures and calm winds that resulted in a sea “like glass”. Icebergs where known to be in the region, but the calm winds made spotting them difficult. To spot icebergs during the night, lookouts searched for wind driven wave breaking around their bases. The ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14.
On Monday morning, after the sinking, one survivor reported a breeze that came up around dawn to add to the morning chill. Photographs of the rescue that morning show small waves on the ocean surface, confirming that report.
Courtesy NASAApril 12, 1981 was the date of the first space shuttle launch. I remember it.
On April 12, 1981, astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen launched into space on space shuttle Columbia on the STS-1 mission--NASA's first mission aboard a reusable spacecraft. STS-1 was NASA's first manned mission since the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
Courtesy Mark RyanIt's once again March 14 (3/14), and that means it's once again Pi Day! That's the day set aside to recognize "the ratio of any Euclidean circle's circumference to its diameter", or in mathematical terms, it's an irrational number that begins with:
3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128481117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920962829254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609... and on and on and on, yadda, yadda, yadda. (It wasn't intentional but I like how the number has gone off the page toward infinity.)
Pi Day was created by a physicist named Larry Shaw back in 1988. The symbol for pi is that thing pictured above. (Yes, it's a blueberry pi - my favorite).
Courtesy Public domain via FlickrBorn March 12, 1784, in Axminster, Devon, England, the Rev. William Buckland was the first Professor of Geology at Oxford University, and is credited as being the first man to name a dinosaur - at least officially. Fossil remains of a large unknown reptile were discovered around 1815 at Stonefield some twelve miles northwest of Oxford.
Courtesy Public domain via FlickrIn 1824, at a meeting of the Geological Society of London (of which he was president), Buckland presented a paper describing the fossils and assigning them to a gigantic creature he called Megalosaurus (Great Lizard). This was long before dinosaurs were named or even recognized as a diverse group. A couple strange footnotes to all this: James Parkinson, an English paleontologist and surgeon had actually introduced and published the Megalosaurus name in 1822 but failed to include a proper description so it wasn't considered scientifically valid until Buckland's official presentation before the Geological Society two years later (the same year Parkinson died).
Courtesy Public domain via FlickrAlso, a single fossilized femur head now attributed to the same genus had been discovered in Oxfordshire in 1676 but was subsequently lost. Its original illustration, however, remains and is detailed enough to assign it to Megalosaurus. At one point this specimen had been named Scrotum humanum because it resembled giant human testicles. According to the rules of scientific nomenclature that name should have had priority over Megalosaurus but someone was bright enough to nip that idea in the bud.
Courtesy Mark RyanOnce again it's Draw A Dinosaur Day. That means there's still time for you to sketch up a quick dinosaur picture and upload it to the DADD website. Even if you don't have a drawing to submit, you can go there and view some of the great dinosaur drawings others have made. This is the sixth year for Draw A Dinosaur Day. And guess what - it also happens to be my birthday (again). I like that both events fall on the same day.
Courtesy Erik-Jan VensOld Sol (our sun) fired off a blast of solar energy yesterday that scientists say could produce a good batch of aurora borealis, the atmospheric light show better known as northern lights. The energy unleashed in the recent solar storm (coronal mass ejection) is the most since 2005. When the charged solar particles reach Earth's magnetic field they collide with atoms in the atmosphere and subsequently may produce a spectacular overhead display of colored light. Green seems to be the most common color of aurora, but I've seen spectacular displays of red, blue, yellow and green in the past. So if the skies in your region are clear tonight or tomorrow night, and depending how far north you're located, you might be in for a celestial treat.
Get out there, if you can, and watch skaters take on the insane Red Bull Crashed Ice course here in downtown St. Paul. It's a great place to watch all sorts of physics in action. And bundle up. Winter's back, suddenly, and the laws of thermodynamics apply to you, too.
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Courtesy alvherre at FlickrAcclaimed astrophysicist and author, Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge - a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton - turns 70 years old today. Stricken with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), Hawking has defied doctors by living well-past their predicted "few years" when he was first diagnosed with the disease in 1963. A celebration in Britain took place today but Hawking was ill and couldn't attend the celebration. A recorded speech by Hawking was presented instead. Despite his debilitating disorder, Professor Hawking has managed to raise a family and through the use of computers to write several best-selling books, including A Brief History of Time. Here's an interview with Hawking's biographer, Kitty Ferguson. In Great Britain, ALS is known as motor neuron disease.
Courtesy US Geological Survey Photographic LibraryToday marks the bicentennial of the start of the historic New Madrid earthquake series, which began at 2am on December 16, in 1811. The quakes were so powerful, large areas of land uplifted and sank creating new lakes and swamps, and causing islands to disappear. Large waves spawned by the tremors raked across the banks of the Mississippi causing massive landslides, and even briefly changing the course of the mighty river.
Named after the nearby river village of New Madrid in the then Louisiana Territory (now Missouri), the quake and its many aftershocks affected an area 10 times larger than the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Luckily, the New Madrid area was sparsely populated when the line of strong earthquakes took place, as they were the strongest recorded earthquakes ever to take place east of the Rocky Mountains.
Earthquakes of such magnitude as those that struck New Madrid (~ 7.0) typically occur along plate boundaries - areas where one tectonic plate is colliding with another, such as along the West Coast's San Andreas Fault. The mid-section of the country sets on only one plate - the normally stable North American plate. Faults do run through it, such as the Cottonwood Grove and the Reelfoot faults which some scientists hypotheisze were responsible for the New Madrid series.
But researchers don't agree on what caused the strong intraplate earthquakes. They could have been triggered by other distant earthquakes or by the release of energy built up by the heating of the crust from an upper mantle magma plume or from isostatic rebound - that is the release of stresses caused by the retreat of glaciers that once covered the region.
Whatever the cause and despite new data being gathered by present day geologists, the New Madrid earthquakes were an historic anomaly that remain wrapped in mystery.