Stories tagged Forces of Nature


Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MN
Partial eclipse over Lake Calhoun: Minneapolis, MNCourtesy Mark Ryan
A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over much of North America tomorrow (October 23rd, 2014), including here in the Twin Cities. Note that this won't be a total eclipse, so it won't be safe to view the eclipsed sun without protective solar filters for your eyes. I have a piece of #14 arc-welder's glass (available at welding supply stores) that I've used to view solar eclipses safely in the past. You can also purchase special eclipse glasses online or from some local retail outlets. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon but even directly viewing a 99 percent eclipsed sun can damage your eyes. So it's important that you make sure you use eye protection. Probably the safest way to view the eclipse is by poking a pinhole in a sheet of paper or piece of cardboard and projecting the sun's image though it onto another flat surface.

Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipse
Map for Oct. 23, 2014 partial eclipseCourtesy F. Espenak, NASA
Solar eclipses can take place two to five times each year but since the Earth's surface is covered mostly by water, they're often viewable only from obscure and hard-to-get-to locations. Solar eclipses occur three ways: partial, total, and annular. During a partial eclipse only a fraction of the Sun's surface is covered by the Moon; during a total eclipse the Moon covers the full face of the Sun; during an annular eclipse the Moon is farther from Earth and relatively too small to completely block out the solar disk thus creating a ring of sunlight around the Moon's limbs. It's rare, but sometimes all three types can occur during a single event called a hybrid eclipse.

In the Twin Cities, the eclipse will start at 4:23pm and hit maximum eclipse at 5:35pm. About 51 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. The weather forecast calls for possibility of rain in the morning, with slow clearing and a high of around 64°F. If we're lucky, the clouds will scatter by eclipse time and provide some excellent viewing opportunities of the eclipsed sun low in the western sky. One of the interesting phenomenons to look for during a partial eclipse is the pinhole effect leaves and other objects make with their shadows - fringing the edges with miniature crescents. I'll try to get some good photos if weather permits.

Coming up in the summer of 2017, the first total eclipse of the sun visible in the lower 48 states in nearly 40 years will will sweep across the US along a line from Oregon to South Carolina. Don't miss it if you can - it's one of the greatest natural events you'll ever witness in your life. But in the meantime, get outside and enjoy a partial warm-up tomorrow.

Eclipse info at
How to safely watch a partial eclipse
Eclipse visibility map


Kilauea at night: a massive magma chamber has been detected beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone.
Kilauea at night: a massive magma chamber has been detected beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Researchers from the University of Miami Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have detected a new, massive magma chamber beneath Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world.

By analyzing seismic waves that traveled through the volcano, scientists from the school's geology and geophysics departments have been able to piece together a 3-dimensional velocity model of what's taking place deep below the volcano's caldera.

"It was known before that Kilauea had small, shallow magma chambers," said Guoqing Lin, lead author of the study. "This study is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deep oceanic crust below."

Located in oceanic crust between 5 and 6.8 miles beneath the volcano's East Rift Zone, the new chamber has been determined to be several kilometers in diameter. The seismic data also revealed that it's lava is composed of a slushy mixture of about 10 percent magma and 90 percent crystal.

According to co-author and professor of geology and geophysics, Falk Amelung, the information is useful in understanding magma bodies and a high priority for the researchers because of the possible hazards created by the volcano.

"Kilauea volcano produces many small earthquakes and paying particular attention to new seismic activity near this body will help us to better understand where future lava eruptions will come from," he said.
Kilauea has been active for more than 30 years and is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The paper appeared in a recent edition of the journal Geology.

Science News story
LiveScience story
2007 video of Kilauea erupting
More about Kilauea


Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.
Charlie Darwin: The schoolbook victory in Texas obviously makes him feel like Charlie Sheen.Courtesy National Portrait Gallery
Last month, on November 22nd, while many people in the country were observing the 50th anniversary of president John F. Kennedy's assassination by shots fired from the Texas School Book Depository, there was another significant event happening that day involving Texas schoolbooks. That same Friday, despite objections and obstructionist tactics by creationists, the Texas Board of Education approved several public school science textbooks that included full coverage of evolution and climate change. The vote came late in the day and although the creationist faction did manage to make the adoption of two biology books contingent on a committee ruling regarding some alleged "flaws" in the text, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), a watchdog group instrumental in countering the irrational creationist attacks, expects the passage to stand.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of today’s vote, which is a huge win for science education and public school students in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, TFN's president. “Four years ago this board passed controversial curriculum standards some members hoped would force textbooks to water down instruction on evolution and climate change. But that strategy has failed because publishers refused to lie to students and parents demanded that their children get a 21st-century education based on established, mainstream science.”

Dallas Morning News story
Evolution is True article


Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?
Victim of mass extinction: Will current species suffer a similar fate due to current environmental trends?Courtesy Mark Ryan
A new and troubling paper from the Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts predicts possible and somewhat grim outcomes for some of Earth's natural systems from climate change that could rival the extinction event of the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago.

The abrupt impact could be coming faster than previously expected and would negatively affect human and physical climate systems as well. The document warns that the abruptness of the changes could be unanticipated and could find us unprepared to deal with them

Records of past climate preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediments show that the atmosphere contains higher levels of carbon dioxide than it has in a very long time. Carbon emissions from human activity continue to add to this rising concentration. Other activities including deforestation and resource extraction place additional environmental pressures on our climate and other natural systems.

At the end of the Cretaceous, all species of non-avian dinosaurs, along with the megafauna of flying and swimming reptiles were wiped off the face of the Earth. Many dinosaur species showed signs of decline even before the Chicxlub asteroid delivered the final kibosh on their existence.

Dr. James W.C. White, a professor of Geological Sciences and of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder chaired the committee which included more than a dozen earth scientists and ocean researchers from universities in both Canada and the United States, and from the National Academy of Science.

A prepublication copy of the entire 201-page paper is available to read without charge on the National Academies Press page. You can also download it for free although it was a little tricky getting it to my computer.

MinnPost story


Ever since I was a kid I've loved playing with magnets. They're just so amazing! Remember those nifty, magnetic Scottie Dogs you could buy? Often one was black and the other was white but sometimes they were the same color. You could set them up on the table and push one away with the other until the loose one flipped around and the two joined together with a dull snap. Or how about using a magnet underneath the table to move a paperclip around the tabletop? That was always fun. I still like playing with magnets. When I worked in the Dino and Fossils gallery here at the museum, I carried a magnet with me and would demonstrate the magnetic properties of iron ore, especially the very magnetic mineral, magnetite.

I've been watching some videos lately about magnets and magnetism, and an oddball magnetic liquid called ferrofluid, which you can make in your kitchen. Anyway, I've gathered some videos here to share with our Buzz audience. The first (above) is about the strongest magnet in the world! The next is a levitation demonstration using neodymium magnets, followed by a couple videos utilizing ferrofluid, and ending with instructions on how to make your own at home.


Typical Paleozoic fossils from Minnesota: This year's National Fossil Day theme is Paleozoic fossils. Minnesota Paleozoic rocks hold an abundance of such fossils dating from the Late Cambrian though the Late Ordovician Periods.
Typical Paleozoic fossils from Minnesota: This year's National Fossil Day theme is Paleozoic fossils. Minnesota Paleozoic rocks hold an abundance of such fossils dating from the Late Cambrian though the Late Ordovician Periods.Courtesy Mark Ryan
It's Earth Science Week and this year's celebration centers around maps and mapping and their importance in geology and other earth sciences. Then on Saturday, October 19th from 1-4pm, the Science Museum of Minnesota is celebrating National Fossil Day with some special fossil-related exhibits throughout the museum. This year's theme is Paleozoic life, which is exactly the types of fossils commonly found in the southern half of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the official National Fossil Day website is closed due to the US government shutdown that continues, but that shouldn't stop anyone from celebrating fossils. Join us Saturday for some fossil fun.

OneGeology mapping webite
Minnesota Geological Survey maps
Fossil hunting in Lilydale (closed indefinitely due to a spring 2013 tragedy)
Collecting fossils in Minnesota


Spider Web
Spider WebCourtesy Wikimedia - en:User:Fir0002
Eden Steven, a physicist at Florida State University is developing ways to possibly conduct electricity using spider webs and carbon nanotubes.

A carbon nanotube is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon that’s been rolled into a tube. A nanotube’s diameter is at least 10,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair. Carbon nanotubes are strong and have been found to conduct electricity and heat.

Florida State University reports Steven used just a drop of water to attach powdery carbon nanotubes onto spider silk. He gathered the spider silk himself, using a stick to gather webs outside his lab.

The experiment has drawn much national attention. “It turns out that this high-grade, remarkable material has many functions,” Steven said of the silk coated in carbon nanotubes. “It can be used as a humidity sensor, a strain sensor, an actuator (a device that acts as an artificial muscle, for lifting weights and more) and as an electrical wire.”

Steven wanted to investigate eco-friendly materials and was especially interested in materials that could deal with humidity without complicated treatments and chemical additives.

“Understanding the compatibility between spider silk and conducting materials is essential to advance the use of spider silk in electronic applications,” Steven wrote in the online research journal Nature Communications. “Spider silk is tough, but becomes soft when exposed to water. … The nanotubes adhere uniformly and bond to the silk fiber surface to produce tough, custom-shaped, flexible and electrically conducting fibers after drying and contraction.”

To learn more about Eden Steven's work visit:

To learn more about nanotechnology, science, and engineering, visit:

To see other nano stories on Science Buzz tagged #nano visit:


A long-buried, underwater forest of Cypress trees was recently discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. The forest, estimated to be about 50,000 years old, was once buried under tons of sediment, heading toward possible fossilization, until the natural forces (most likely 2005's Hurricane Katrina) riled up the Gulf Coast waters and uncovered it again. Hundreds of stumps and fallen logs - some huge - covering 1.3 square kilometers can now be seen in 60 feet of water, 10 miles off the coast of Alabama. The Cypress forest once populated the area around the Mobile-Tensaw Delta when the Gulf's coastline was farther south, and the water level was 120 feet lower than it is today. As the climate began to warm, rising sea levels eventually drowned the forest. The trees all died but oxidation and decomposition were halted as a constant rain of delta silt covered the forest for thousands of years. When cut, the well-preserved wood still smells as fresh as living Cypress, but now that the forest has been uncovered again, wood-boring marine animals are back at work tearing it down.

Live Science story


This amazing video from NASA (via EarthSky) shows an incredibly gigantic eruption on the Sun's surface that produced three different types of events: a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and a really interesting and rare phenomenon known as coronal rain.

Coronal rain occurs when hot plasma in the eruption cools and condenses then follows the outline of the normally invisible magnetic fields as it rains back to the Sun's chromosphere. I found that particularly amazing to see.
The images were gathered on July 19, 2012 by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. One frame was shot every 12 seconds over a span of 21.5 hours from 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT. The video plays at a rate of 30 frames per second, so each second equals 6 minutes of real time.

What's extra cool is when the scale of this thing is compared to the size of Earth­. If you were feeling small earlier today, you should be feeling microscopic after watching this.

EarthSky website


Darvaza: Darvaza
Darvaza: DarvazaCourtesy

Rituals come in all forms and are celebrated by humans the world over. Some rituals are considered more well known than others.

In fact some are even brought into the main stream whereby they are given universal acknowledgement. The rituals that involve fire are the most prominent. The first famous fire ritual would probably have to be that which surrounds the Olympic flame. This is a flame which has been ceremonially lit every four years for the last 2000 years. This is one of the reasons it is referred to as the “Eternal Flame”. This is not a ritual that is confined to a few, but rather the whole planet as we have just witnessed from the recent London 2012 games as well as the great games that have gone before.

The “Mrapen” eternal flame located in Indonesia, is a very famous naturally occurring flame which emerged from the earth. The flame is mystical in its nature and occurred as gas was ignited by the fire hundreds of years ago. There is historical evidence that the flame has been burning at least since the 15th century. It’s a flame that never goes out despite the ravages of wind and rain. Considered sacred, it is used as part of an annual Buddhist ceremony called “Waisak”. It has even been used as a torch relay flame for some Indonesian sports events.

Another flame we can point to is the one located in Turkmenistan which is aptly nicknamed “The Gates of Hell”. This flame is more of a fiery inferno than a flame since it is 38 feet wide and has been on fire for over 38 years. It is known as the Darvaza Gas Crater. This is no natural occurrence but rather a result of a 1971 Russian industrial accident. After a drilling rig dug a little too far, it culminated in the release of poisonous gases. It was set alight in order to prevent an environmental leak – with the belief being that it would burn off soon. This created a continuous fire.

Many eternal flames will be pivotal to rituals and religions across the world. The Jewish faith uses the flame as part of a ritual which occurred at the Tabernacle and now the Jerusalem Temple. It was part of a commandment that a fire should burn continously at the Outer Altar. In modern times we can see reference to the eternal flame in the form of “sanctuary lamps”which are kept in the synagogues across the world. Flames will continue to be used as a symbol of respect and sacredness as it is the only element that can convey such feelings with force and illumination.

Which phenomena make your jaw drop? Has any fire burned longer than the Mrapen?