NASA just released some stunning new views of the Sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory that was launched this past February. The space craft's cameras are able to produce images 10x better than the resolution of high-definition television. giving scientists the ability to examine more closely and in much greater detail such space weather phenomenon as solar flares, coronal mass ejection (CME), extreme ultraviolet radiation, and sunspots. The mysteries of the Sun's magnetic field will also be studied. The spacecraft's instruments are able to gather data more quickly and more often than previously possible. Check it out.
The next video provides some background information about the SDO project.
Moving water is an extremely powerful and earth-shaping force of nature. It can also be quite lethal. According to NOAA, over a 30-year average (1979-2008) flash floods have killed more people than any other weather-related natural disaster in the US. With that in mind, here are two remarkable video clips of flash floods that came to my attention via Rebecca Hunt-Foster’s Dinochick Blog. The videos were shot by David Rankin of Rankinstudio.com who keeps close watch on the local weather in southern Utah, and whenever heavy rains occur, runs out with camera in hand to capture the amazing power and erosion of the resultant flash floods, that drag along everything that gets in their way. This explanation of the phenomenon and why it interests him is from his website:
“1 inch of rain over 1 square mile amounts to over 17.38 million gallons of water that need to be drained. Some of the floods in these videos were produced when 2 - 4 inches of rain fell over 30 - 60 square miles, over a few billion gallons of water draining down one wash in the desert. These washes are usually bone dry for most of the year until the monsoon rains come. They can turn into raging torrents within minutes and are very dangerous during this time of year. If there hasn't been much local heavy downpour the floods come through looking like a tsunami with a wall of water that can get up to 5 feet high, and tear up everything in its way. This is what you see happening in these videos. I am also interested in raising awareness when it comes to these beasts. They are quite dangerous, and can come through up to 6 hours after the storms that create them pass by with almost no warning.” – David Rankin
Called Masdar, the new city will retain time-tested traits of early Arab desert architecture, keeping streets narrow and maximizing the amount of shade created from closely built building walls. Wind towers will help move air through the streets. But most of the energy needs of the planned city of 50,000 will come from the sun. At least that’s the plan.
Some of the ideas being tossed around include using a circle of giant mirrors to focus the sun’s ray’s onto a tower in the center of the city – kind of like those parabolic cookers you see advertised on television but on a much larger scale. The light and heat will be converted and controlled to supply necessary power to drive the city’s energy needs. Other plans stem from lunar colonization ideas, such as covering surfaces with thin layered, highly reflective materials to deflect excessive desert heat.
The planners hope to make Masdar primarily a walking city. They’re keeping it compact and easily accessible by foot. Plus, gasoline-powered vehicles will be banned. But below street level, computer-driven podcars called Personal Rapid Transit will use solar-powered magnets to move people around town.
A huge solar farm – the largest in the Middle East – has already been built to supply power for construction of the new city, and to offset the necessary use of carbon-based fuel to build it. Construction costs for Masdar which will include 1000 business and a university are being covered by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Pardon the pun, but I think it all sounds so cool.
Courtesy Zina Deretsky, NSF
Most computers and communications rely upon controlling the flow of electrons. Such devices would be faster and more secure if they used particles of light (photons).
A research team led by Marko Loncar just published how a "diamond nanowire device acts as a nanoscale antenna that funnels the emission of single photons from the embedded color center into a microscope lens."
"This exciting result is the first time the tools of nanofabrication have been applied to diamond crystals in order to control the optical properties of a single defect," said Loncar.
Not only is communicating through optical fibers more efficient, there is no easy way for eavesdroppers to "tap the line".
"The resulting device may prove easy to couple into a standard optical fiber. This novel approach is a key technological step towards achieving fast, secure computing and communication." nsf.gov/news
Digging deep into diamonds Harvard Gazette
Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory A heavy isotope of antihydrogen was created at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) on Long Island, New York. This antihydrogen isotope was heavier than the previous antimatter record-holder, antihelium. I say "was", because it only lasted a few hundred trillionths of a second.
To make the antimatter, physicists smashed two gold nuclei against each other with enormous energies. The data resulting from the collision "literally looked like haystacks". Sophisticated software was used to make sense out of the debris and pick out the new antimatter.
To form the new antihydrogen isotope, first an antistrange quark binds with an antiup and antidown quark to make an antilambda -- an antineutron-like particle. The antilambda, which is fractionally heavier than a neutron, must then combine with a conventional antineutron and an antiproton. The chances of this happening are very slim: out of 100 million collisions, RHIC generated just 70 of the new antihydrogen isotopes.
Studying the properties of antinuclei such as these might help physicists study the primordial form of matter that existed in the universe shortly after the Big Bang and why the Universe is full of matter rather than antimatter.
Heavy antimatter created in gold collisions Scientific American
Courtesy NASA If you read the post about how earthquakes differ, you would know that in the Chile earthquake, a large amount of the Earth's crust plunged under its neighboring crust, bringing it closer to the center of the earth.
Just as Olympic figure skaters spin faster when their arms move closer to their body, the Earth is now spinning faster making our day about 1.26 microseconds shorter than it was before the quake.
Earth was also slightly tipped off balance, like when a spinning skater brings in one arm but not the other. The planet's axis tilted about 8 centimeters. This is insignificant compared to other wobbles measuring several meters resulting from winds and ocean currents.
Courtesy skittzitilbyThree unusually large waves crashed into a Mediterranean cruise ship traveling between Barcelona, Spain and Genoa, Italy killing two passengers. Witnesses say the 26-foot waves smashed windows on the front of the ship. By freak wave standards these weren't by any means the largest (see Thor's huge wave post from a few years ago), but they were large enough to do damage. Rogue waves aren't uncommon, and sailing lore often mentions the "Three Sisters", abnormally large waves that come in sets of threes among smaller waves, like these recent ones did. This NOAA webpage attributes these kinds of freakish waves to storms and high winds, but is it possible these abnormal killer waves were generated by the recent earthquake in Chile? Just a thought.
It seemed to me to be a pretty junky interview and feature, but I'm intrigued nonetheless; the Bloom Box is supposed to be an efficient new fuel cell that would allow electricity to be produced at the site where it will be used, eliminating transmission losses, and efficiently converting fuel to energy.
It runs on hydrocarbons, but it sounds like it's pretty omnivorous as to the kinds it can use (so natural gas works, but so would carbon-neutral biogas, etc), and it presumably emits CO2, only much less of it than traditional power generation. (The interview was extremely fuzzy on that aspect, but the Atlantic's article about Bloom from a month ago says that the device does release CO2.)
Something like 20 companies in California are already testing Bloom Box units, and the people making them to have attracted a ton of money, so the technology doesn't look quite so pie in the sky as a lot of other energy inventions we're supposed to get excited about.
The guy behind the Bloom Box believes that, inside of a decade, you'll be able to have one in your basement for something like $3000 dollars. More expensive than a used Super Nintendo, but, as far as major appliances go, pretty darn cheap. We'll see about that, sir... The featured skeptic seems to think that, if we see it at all, we'll see it coming from a company like GE, not Bloom Energy.
Here's the 60 Minutes piece:
The whole operation has been kept pretty secret until recently, and supposedly there will be more details coming soon.
But until then... What do you think? Ho-hum? Hoax? Or is this something to be excited about?
Courtesy Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University
Lasers, now used in CD and DVD players and to read prices at the checkout counter, were first developed about fifty years ago. They work by resonating light between two reflectors. They cannot be made smaller than half a wavelength of light, though (about 200 nanometers).
Researchers have now figured a way to force a sphere of only 44 nanometers to emit laser light (more than 1 million could fit inside a red blood cell). These nano-lasers are called spasers which stands for "surface plasmon amplification by stimulated emission of radiation".
When light is pumped onto the sphere, the surface coating generates a form of radiation called surface plasmons.
To act like lasers, they require a "feedback system" that causes the surface plasmons to oscillate back and forth so that they gain power and can be emitted as light.Plasmon resonances are capable of squeezing optical frequency oscillations into a nanoscopic cavity to enable a true nanolaser
This new area of technology sometimes called nanophotonics or nanoplasmonics will enable better microscopes, smaller computer memories, faster computer circuits that use light instead of electrons, and many more yet to be imagined applications.
Solar cells produce less than 1/1000 of the Earth's electricity. This is mainly because they are expensive and are made from rare, hard to obtain materials.
An IBM research team, managed by David Mitzi, is working on photovoltaic cells that are made from common materials.
The new solar cells are also cheaper to manufacture, using a “printing” technique that uses a hydrazine solution containing copper and tin with nanoparticles of zinc dispersed within it. The solution is then spin-coated and heat treated in the presence of selenium or sulfur vapor. PhysOrg
This new material, called kesterite, was 6.8% efficient in 2009. IBM increased the efficiency to 9.8% and is planning to increase the efficiency above 11 per cent, which is equal to or better than the traditional solar cells.
Abstract of published paper: High-Efficiency Solar Cell with Earth-Abundant Liquid-Processed Absorber Advanced Materials