Stories tagged Motion


No iceberg needed: This drawing from Harpers Weekly in May 1865 showed the wreckage in the aftermath of the explosion aboard the Sultana while it was cruising the Mississippi River near Memphis. It's believed more people died in that accident than aboard the Titanic, which sank in the north Atlantic in 1912.
No iceberg needed: This drawing from Harpers Weekly in May 1865 showed the wreckage in the aftermath of the explosion aboard the Sultana while it was cruising the Mississippi River near Memphis. It's believed more people died in that accident than aboard the Titanic, which sank in the north Atlantic in 1912.Courtesy Thatcher131
Hanging around in the museum lobby yesterday, I came across a cute little exhibit put together by the Mississippi River Visitor Center. And the information is provided just blew me away.

Have you ever heard of the Mississippi riverboat the Sultana? I hadn't either, but it's story is a tale of even more tragedy than the sinking of the Titanic. Heading up river on April 27, 1865, with a overflow load of passengers, one of the Sultana's boilers suddenly exploded near Memphis, Tennessee. The ship was carrying mostly Union Army soldiers who had just be released from Confederate prisoner of war camps. It's estimated that up to 1,800 passengers died when the Sultana quickly sank. Slightly more than 1,500 passengers died with the sinking of the Titanic.

About 300 to 500 passengers were survivors. Due to the changing course of the river, remains of the Sultana were found in a bean field in Arkansas in 1982 about two miles away from the current path of the Mississippi River.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Read a narrative account of the Sultana here.


Wind energy harvest farm: Palm Springs, California
Wind energy harvest farm: Palm Springs, CaliforniaCourtesy Mark Ryan
Is the wind being knocked out of the sails of the wind energy industry? A study to be published this summer in Journal of Geophysical Research seems to be pointing that way. Wind measurements in the Midwest and eastern parts of the United States in particular have shown a decline in the energy source.

Two atmospheric researchers, Sara Pryor (no relation to Science Buzz’s own Liza Pryor – or is she?) of Indiana University, and her co-author Eugene Takle, a professor at Iowa State University say their research shows a distinct drop in wind speed in areas east of the Mississippi River, especially around the Great Lakes. Wind speeds there have diminished 10 percent or more in the past decade, and an overall decline in wind has been taking place since 1973.

Global warming may be the cause. Differences in barometric pressure drive wind production. In a global-warming environment, the Earth’s polar regions warm more quickly than the rest of the globe, and narrow the temperature difference between the poles and equatorial regions. That reduced difference in temperature also means a reduced difference in barometric pressure, which results in less air movement (wind).

Peak wind speeds in western regions of the US such as Texas and portions of the Northern Plains haven’t changed nearly as much. Pryor speculates the reason the Great Lakes area shows the greatest decrease may be because wind travels more slowly across water than ice, and in recent years there’s been less ice formation on the Great Lakes. Changes in the landscape such as trees and new construction near instrument stations may have also skewed the research. Still, wind speed studies done in Europe and Australia showed similar declines there, adding credence to the Pryor and Takle findings.

There are detractors to the study. Jeff Freedman, an atmospheric scientist with a renewable energy-consulting firm in Albany, N.Y., says his research has revealed no definite trend of reduced wind speed. And even though research hasn’t been published yet, some climate models studying the effects of global warming seem to agree with Freeman’s findings.

But if Pryor’s and Takle’s study proves to be true, it could mean big losses to the wind energy industry, since a 10 percent drop in peak winds would mean a 30 percent change in how wind energy is gathered.

Scientific American website story
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Summer’s quickly approaching and before you know it, it’s gone. But the folks at the Discovery Channel’s show Time Warp have helped us keep summer along a little bit longer. Time Warp uses high-speed photography to slow down the action of common every day occurrences, giving us a chance to see what’s really going on.

Like here, check out the action of a humming bird at a feeder

Or watch what happens when a guy belly-flops into a pool

Here are some links to other slo-mo views of cool things, most of them summer related. YouTube does not have embed capabilities open on these videos, so you’ll have to click on the link to access the video.

Opening a soda can

Water balloon to the face

Rattlesnake rattle

Spin art with ink

Stick vs. cocoanut

Bar dominos

Whip crack on a pretzel

Car crash

Figure skater

What to learn more about slo-mo photograph, Time Warp or other aspects of this fun technology? Click here.


House of home runs: Home runs have been soaring out of new Yankee Stadium at a record clip. Is there any science behind the factors causing that to happen?
House of home runs: Home runs have been soaring out of new Yankee Stadium at a record clip. Is there any science behind the factors causing that to happen?Courtesy The Silent Wind of Doom
I wish I would have come across this information a week earlier. I could have passed it along to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and maybe helped the squad avert the disaster it ran into this weekend in the Bronx.

National Public Radio devoted a half hour to discussing the scientific and statistical factors that might be at play in the increased number of home runs being hit at the new New York Yankee Stadium. As any Twins fan can tell you, the homes kept flying out of the park this weekend when the Twins visited the new stadium, resulting in three-straight Twins losses. Most puzzling about this increased number of homers is that the interior dimensions of the playing field were planned to be exactly like the old Yankee Stadium.

You can hear the stadium discussion here. If you don't have audio capability on your computer, I'll quickly summarize the gist of the discussion.

First, the numbers. This report was done on May 15. Up to that point, there had been 47 home runs hit in the new ball park compared to 24 homers in the same number of games played at the start of last season in the old park. This year's average is a whopping 3.6 homers per game.

A wind studies specialist points out that the alignment of the new stadium is slightly different than the old stadium. In the new park, home plate to right field is directly set up west to east. The old park was shifted about 20 degrees in a northwest to southeast orientation. And predominant winds in the area go west to east.

Another wind factor is that the new stadium is shallower from top to field than the old one. That means less deflection or impeding the wind flow into the new stadium than the old one.

And while the posted outfield wall dimensions of the new stadium are identical to the old park, there is a difference in right field. There, the once concave outfield wall is now straight to accommodate a new out-of-town games scoreboard. Six home runs hit this year landed in areas behind this new scoreboard that would have been in the park in old Yankee Stadium.

A sports writer from ESPN on the show also points out that the sample of games to draw any conclusions from right now is just too small. It's standard practice to figure in three full seasons (243 games) to come up with an "even" reading of what's normal for a ballpark, he notes. The 13 games played so far amount to just 5% of that reading.

Two line-up considerations for the Yankees. They've had a couple starting pitchers struggle early this season an injuries to position players have made their line-up be predominantly left-handers, who tend to hit the ball to right field more than right-handers. This year's baseballs might be flying farther in general, too, he said. Home run production is up all across the major leagues so far this season.

So why do you think more home runs are being hit more often in Yankee Stadium? Share your thoughts here with other Buzz readers. I know for me, it gives me one more great reason to hate the Yankees.


Green machine: This race car is made from sustainable materials and burn a biodiesel fuel composed of waste material used in making chocolate.
Green machine: This race car is made from sustainable materials and burn a biodiesel fuel composed of waste material used in making chocolate.Courtesy Yahoo UK
Powered by the byproducts created in making chocolate and constructed out of materials created from vegetables, this is no ordinary race car.

In fact, the WorldFirst Formula 3 race car unveiled this week in Great Britain bills itself at the world’s first sustainable race car. The car, which is being prepped for racing in the Formula 3 series, is opening eyes on may levels.

Initial tests had the car going at 60 miles per hour. With a few more tweaks, designers estimate that it should go at around at a competitive 145 miles per hour.

Powering that speed is a special turbo-diesel engine that runs on bio-diesel fuel. The current fuel formulation uses waste products leftover from making chocolate.

Other “green” components of the car include a steering wheel made from a polymer created out of carrots, wing mirrors constructed from a potato starch base and brake pads that have cashew nut shells as a component. The car’s seat includes materials created out of flax fiber and soy bean oil.

Want to learn more? Here are links to two different stories on the WorldFirst Formula 3 car.

With the Indy 500 coming up, this new eco-friendly car could prove to be a boost to drivers in that marathon race. If they get hungry during the race, they could just take a bite of the steering wheel or driver’s seat.


Remember on TV's Star Trek how Captain Kirk's impossible requests were always put off by his chief engineer, Montgomery Scott? Scotty favorite excuse for avoiding work was to claim it just wasn't physically possible. This from the guy whose engineering skills could propel a starship across the universe at Warp Factor 10 using a couple lousy dilithium crystals. Or maybe he just had better things to do. Whatever the case, it looks now like Scotty's favorite work shirk excuse may no longer be valid. At least not in the world of nanoclusters.

While exploring strange new worlds using computer modeling and nanoclusters made up of several hundred atoms, researchers in Japan have observed tiny clumps of atoms that seem to break the second law of thermodynamics. Don’t think crime is rampant in the nano-world. Most of the atoms observed were law-abiding. When the nanoclusters collided at just under 12 miles per hour, most of them either clumped together like sticky mud, or bounced off each other and went on their way at a slower speed.

But a small percentage of nanoclusters (less than 5%) bounced away at an increased speed, acting as if they picked up an extra boost of energy.

It’d be like dropping a golf ball on the sidewalk and instead of it gradually losing energy (as absorbed heat) and eventually coming to a dead stop, as expected, it just went higher and higher with each successive bounce until it finally bounced into orbit. That just doesn’t make sense. Or as Scotty’s cohort Mr. Spock would say: “Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.”

According to the researchers, Hisao Hayakawa, of Kyoto University, and Hiroto Kuninaka, of Chuo University in Tokyo, the so-called super rebound resulted from random internal changes of motion in the nanocluster’s atoms, some of which can give the collision an extra boost, like jumping on a trampoline.

Sounds like we got ourselves the makings for some sort of perpetual motion machine here. Well, not quite. Apparently, this scofflaw behavior can only take place in very tiny systems. When the researchers increased the cluster’s atoms from hundreds to thousands, the behavior disappeared completely.

Besides that, the system as a whole still followed the letter of the law. The second law deals statistically with millions of atoms, so even though some nanoclusters picked up extra energy, the clusters overall dispersed energy and headed towards increased entropy just as the law prescribes, and in the end all is well with the universe.

So far the phenomenon has only been seen in computer simulations. But Hayakawa expects it won’t be long before it’s observed in real world experiments. The research findings appeared in the March issue of Physical Review E.

“Fascinating, Captain.”


Science News story
More about the second law of thermodynamics


When I stumble across stories like this one about a space rock that made a close approach to Earth on Monday, I can't help but think that maybe all the bad news we've been hearing lately is not so bad after all. Sure, the economy is in shambles and everyone seems a little down on their luck, but it could be a lot worse, right? An asteroid could explode over your house with the force of 1,000 atomic bombs, much like the one that fell on Siberia just 100 years ago in something known as the Tunguska event.

Luckily this didn't happen on Monday. The asteroid known as 2009 DD45 was spotted just days earlier by scientists at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, and on Monday it sailed by at about 49,000 miles from Earth. Phew!

If you're like me, you might be asking yourself why this wasn't front page news? One answer is that researchers only discovered the asteroid in late February, and according to astrophysicist Timothy Spahr from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, they knew within hours that it posed no threat to Earth.

2009 DD45 is just one of many near-Earth objects that researchers are keeping close tabs on. In 1999 a rating system was developed to categorize the threat of asteroids and comets called the Torino Rating Scale. On NASA's website you can see a chart of recent and upcoming "close approaches" of asteroids being tracked by researchers from around the world. There are more than you might think, but most of them are very low on the Torino scale, which means scientists predict that they pose no real threat to Earth.

Still, this brings up a good question. If there are so many near-Earth objects out there, and if we know that the Earth has been hit by asteroids many times before, is this something that we should be worried about? An earlier post on Science Buzz looks at the odds of asteroid impact. What do you think?

You can read a recent document by the United Nations Working Group on Near-Earth Objects to see how scientists and governments are working to define policies related to asteroids and the threats that they pose.


What is this a picture of?: Simply put, it's the future.
What is this a picture of?: Simply put, it's the future.Courtesy Trilobite2
Check it out, Buzzketeers: Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have created a boat that is propelled by the surface tension of water! Holy cats!

See, when something floats on the surface of a body of water, the surface tension of the water pulls equally on all sides of the floating object. If the surface tension is somehow disrupted on just one side of the object, however, the surface of the water on the other side will suddenly be pulling harder, and the floating object will move in that direction. The Pittsburgh scientists found that, by applying a small electrical charge, they could disrupt the surface tension of water on one side of a small boat enough that the boat would be pulled in the other direction. Pretty slick, huh?

The scientists got the idea from watching the way beetle larvae move across water. The larvae don’t use electrical pulses; they change surface tension behind them by bending their backs in a particular way.

When I say “a small boat,” however, I mean that the boat Pittsburgh developed is 2 centimeters long. And it moves at 4 millimeters per second.

If you were small enough to fit into a neat 2cm boat, and could only move about one inch every 6 seconds, I figure you’d be bug food. (If I were a bug, and found a tiny person in a tiny boat, I’d eat them. For sure.) And think how awful that would be. So that application is pretty much off the table. The scientists point out, though, that similar boats would be great as tiny, unmanned (obviously) vessels for monitoring water quality, and might even run on solar power. That seems like a good idea.

Hey—here’s a video of the boat in action. That looks bigger and faster than what was described. Maybe it’s bug-proof after all.


You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.
You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.Courtesy NASA
***Apparently MDR already wrote this post a few days ago. Either he and I are just on the same wavelength here, or I totally copied him without realizing it. Er... oops.***

In space, no one can hear you say G%#@&^$ [email protected]&%&!#^@&!

Remember the modifications planned for the International Space Station that would allow resident astronauts to drink their own pee (among other things)? Well, early this week, visiting astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor were actually doing that work (among other work) on the ISS. Things went pretty smoothly, over all, except that one of the astronauts dropped her tools. Outside of the station. In space.


Normally this isn’t a big deal, of course. It is estimated that working people across the country spend as much as 30% of their time dropping tools of one variety or another. (It’s only 9:40, and I’ve already dropped a video camera, a laptop computer, and my toothbrush—all in the toilet! How did that happen?) In space, however, things are a little different. It’s not exactly like a Loony Toons situation, where the space tools would fall to Earth in a deadly rain of super-sonic, flaming wrenches—the ISS is in orbit, and so the dropped tools stayed in orbit. That means that the astronaut’s two grease guns, putty knife, and briefcase-sized tool bag have all become space junk.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting  solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.Courtesy NASA

“Space junk” is a term for the growing cloud of man-made debris orbiting our planet—everything from flecks of shuttle paint, to spent rocket stages, to grease guns, putty knives, and tool bags. Items like these may sound pretty innocuous, but a grease gun traveling at a few thousand miles an hour is really dangerous. Space debris is so dangerous, in fact, that the ISS is now armored to help protect it from orbiting junk, and that the a planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis in October, 2008, had a 1 in 185 chance of “catastrophic impact” with debris.


NASA technicians are scrambling to develop new methods of scrubbing the swearwords out of the astronaut’s space suit, but they remain cautiously optimistic that the equipment will eventually be reusable.


This bunny isn't that cute: But it may be paralyzed, so it sort of fits with the story.
This bunny isn't that cute: But it may be paralyzed, so it sort of fits with the story.Courtesy Franco Folini
Cross reference with “cute,” “animal health,” and “cyborg.”

Yes, here at Science Buzz we tirelessly pursue any and all stories on wheeled animals for you, the Buzzketeer.

So check this out: a wheelie bunny! Oh, man!

What does this have to do with science? Um, I don’t know. Does it matter? Did you see that little bunny?

Ah, fine. It’s about animals, obviously, and animals are sort of sciencey. Health, too, I guess—Bun bun there was left paralyzed by some mystery disease. The pathology of rabbit paralysis probably isn’t a huge priority in medical research, so they don’t know exactly what happened to this bunny, but a number of conditions that affect the nervous system can result in paralysis. If you’re really into the many ways rabbits can become disabled, check out this page, but the short version is that roller-bun probably became paralyzed after a protozoal infection (protozoa, remember, are little, single-celled organisms), in particular an infection caused by the protozoan parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi. For a little bit more on encephalitozoonosis click here.

And I guess this is sort of about prosthetics too, but old-school, basic prosthetics. No Luke Skywalker limbs for paralyzed bunnies.

The main thing, again, is that picture of the bunny.