I know, I know, it's not Friday. But I didn't post the Science Friday video last week. (Or the week before, for that matter, and that one's up next.)
This week (last week?):
"Crocuses, robins, spring peepers aren't the only creatures to signal spring. We visited the "Insect Compactor" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to learn about which bugs to look out for as the weather warms. Keep your eyes on the willow trees--that's where early bees like to hang out."
I made this video of soap bubbles freezing and shattering in Saint Paul, MN. The temperature was 15 below this morning, Jan 3, 2010 .
Let me start by stating this as clearly as I can:
ETHYLENE GLYCOL, THE ANTIFREEZE COMMONLY USED IN CARS, IS POISON!! DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, DRINK ANTIFREEZE!
There, are we all clear on that? Good.
A scientist in Wisconsin has developed an edible antifreeze that will prevent ice crystals from forming in that block of old ice cream you forgot about in the back of your freezer.
DO NOT PUT ANTIFREEZE IN YOUR ICE CREAM!
The edible antifreeze is made from a fruit enzyme that cuts proteins into smaller pieces and keeps them from freezing. It might also be used to protect meats from “freezer burn.”
DO NOT SOAK YOUR MEAT IN ANTIFREEZE!
We hope you have enjoyed our little discourse on the wonders of food processing.
As Science Buzz's resident global warming skeptic, I've taken a lot of shots at Al Gore over the years. Today, however, I find myself in the unusual position of having to defend him against unfair attacks. Somewhat.
In an editorial last Sunday, Gore stated:
“Consider this tale of two planets. Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size, and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon. The difference is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground - having been deposited there by various forms of life over the last 600 million years - and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere.
As a result, while the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees, the average temperature on Venus is 867 degrees. True, Venus is closer to the Sun than we are, but the fault is not in our star; Venus is three times hotter on average than Mercury, which is right next to the Sun. It's the carbon dioxide.”
|CO2 IN ATMOSPHERE||96%||0%*||95%|
*Not quite true: Earth’s atmosphere is 0.035% CO2.
So, planets with lots of carbon in their atmosphere can be either broiling hot or icy cold.
(Another writer, Evan Kayne, complained (seventh item) the comparison isn't fair; Reisman didn’t take into account the fact that the atmosphere on Mars is only 1.3% as thick as Earth’s. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal re-did the calculations, and concluded that frigid Mars still has 34x as much CO2 per cubic foot of atmosphere as the Earth does.)
So far, Al isn't looking too good. But then, blogger David Downing thought he'd discovered another problem. According to the NASA site, Mercury has an average temperature of 452˚ Kelvin, while Venus has an average temp of 726˚ Kelvin. That’s only 1.6 times hotter, a far cry from what Gore had claimed!
Wait a minute. What’s this “Kelvin” scale and why is Downing using it? Well, all temperature scales measure energy. And on the Kelvin scale, 0 degrees means “no energy AT ALL.”
This makes it very easy to compare the energy in different systems. In Celsius, 0 degrees doesn’t mean “zero energy;” it means “the amount of energy in frozen water” -- which may seem chilly to you and me, but at a molecular scale, it’s got plenty of heat. (0 degrees Fahrenheit is apparently the amount of energy in a mix of ice, water, and ammonium chloride.) Comparing 25˚F to 50˚F is tricky, because the scale doesn't stop at 0. As any Minnesotan knows, it goes wayyyyy lower than that!
(It’s kind of like saying “Mike is five years older than me; Vic is 10 years older than me; therefore, Vic is twice as old as Mike.” That would only be true if I were 0 years old. If I were, say, 47, then Mike would be 52 and Vic would be 57, and the differences would be much less impressive.)
So, Downing assumed Gore must have been working in Fahrenheit, and believed that if Venus is 867˚F and Mercury is 289˚F, then Venus is three times hotter. Ha ha, what a silly mistake! I was all prepared to poke fun at Al for this glaring error, until I realized – Mercury isn’t 289˚F. According to NASA, it’s a toasty 354˚F.
So, where did Al get 289˚F? I looked in a bunch of sources -- no one was even close. Wikipedia listed Mercury at a mere 26˚F. (The side facing the Sun broils; the side turned away freezes; this is an average.)
But then I noticed -- 26˚F is 270˚K. And Wikipedia lists Venus at 735˚K . Using the proper Kelvin scale, that works out to 2.7 times hotter than Mercury. Not quite 3 times, but in the ballpark. And, to be fair, Wikipedia gives Mercury a range of temperatures, and “3x hotter” fits comfortably within that range.
So, it turns out Gore was closer to being right than he’s given credit for. He WAS working in the proper Kelvin scale. He was just relying on figures from Wikipedia rather than from NASA.
I don’t know if all this has taught us anything about global warming. But man, have I learned a lot about planetary atmospheres, temperature scales, and math! Thanks, Al!
UPDATE: Evan Kaye had claimed that the atmosphere on Mars is only 2% as thick as Earth's. James Taranto, using figures from the NASA site linked to above, calculated that it is actually 1.3% as thick as Earth's. We have corrected the figure.