Stories tagged Earth and Space Science


If only pictures had sound: Look--all the stars are holding up their lighters!
If only pictures had sound: Look--all the stars are holding up their lighters!Courtesy NASA
Isn’t it embarrassing when you realize that you’ve been operating on a misconception for, well, a really long time? Like, “Oh, my god, his girlfriend’s name is ‘Sara’! I’ve been calling her Starla!” or “Full House’s Uncle Jessie was supposed to be a functional illiterate? Of course!”

It’s the pits, you know? And it has happened to me again.

Ever wonder where hardcore metal bands come from? Not me—I always assumed they usually came out of Scandinavia, or horrible little Chicago suburbs. It seemed like a pretty safe bet, but now I’ve been forced to reevaluate the whole thing, and I’m not looking like a very smart guy. No, it’s clear to me now, after reading about a recent geophysical theory, that the most hard core hardcore metal bands must come from the planet Mercury.

How do I know this? It’s obvious. New geophysical models suggest that it “snows” iron on Mercury. That’s pretty hardcore, but it doesn’t stop there—here on Earth, our snow falls in delightful little flakes, like tiny, pretty fairy hats. With snow like shaped that, it’s amazing we can even listen to metal without our heads turning inside out, melting, and then bursting into explosive gas. See, on Mercury the snow falls in cubes. Cubes of iron. And these cubes don’t just drift lazily through the atmosphere like boring Earth snow. In fact, they don’t move through the atmosphere at all, because on the planet Mercury, it snows iron cubes underground.

It’s thought that the core of Mercury may be made up of molten iron and sulfur. As this white hot brimstone brew approaches the surface of the planet, it cools, and the iron condenses into cubes that sink back into the core. These conditions may explain why Mercury has such a weak magnetic field (Mercury is the only other terrestrial planet in our solar system that possesses a global magnetic field, but the field is 100 times weaker than Earth’s for some reason). They certainly explain where the best blood drinking, arson committing, vocal cord scraping metal bands come from (specifically, I imagine that the planet periodically vomits broods of spike covered babies from volcanoes). Our fluffy, whimsical, puff ‘n stuff snow, on the other hand, is clearly the reason why we produce the people that make the computers that make easy listening music.

Iron snow. Underground. Great.


Nevado del Huila: Huila, the highest active volcano in Colombia, is a stratovolcano constructed inside an old caldera. The volcano is seen here from the SW.
Nevado del Huila: Huila, the highest active volcano in Colombia, is a stratovolcano constructed inside an old caldera. The volcano is seen here from the SW.Courtesy Juan Carlos Diago, 1995 (Bernardo Pulgarín, INGEOMINAS, Colombia).
Nevado del Huila, a volcano in Columbia, erupted shortly before midnight on Monday forcing about 3,500 people to evacuate. The eruption was preceded by seismic activity that started on April 8.

Nevado del Huila last erupted in 2007, causing flooding and mud flows (lahars) as the eruption melted the snow and ice cap on top of the tallest active volcano in Columbia.

Before this recent activity, Nevado del Huila had been quiet since the 16th century.

In 1985 25,000 people were killed when another Columbian volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, erupted initiating a series of deadly lahars.


NASA Science website is an awesome resource

NASA Science website
NASA Science websiteCourtesy NASA
To show how useful this site can be, here are links to pages I found as I dug deeper into just one of the many areas on the NASA Science website.

Science for different levels of learning

The NASA Science website provides learning opportunities for four learning groups.

Earth, sun, planets, and astrophysics

The NASA Science website is divided into these parts.


It's lonely out in space / on such a timeless flight: It was 47 years ago today that Lt. Gagarin rode a rocket ship into history, burning out his fuse up here alone.
It's lonely out in space / on such a timeless flight: It was 47 years ago today that Lt. Gagarin rode a rocket ship into history, burning out his fuse up here alone.Courtesy NASA

On April 12, 1961, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (and how long has it been since you've heard that particular sequence of words?) became the first human being in outer space. Tonight, people in 50 countries on 7 continents are planning parties to celebrate. Don't miss out on the fun! And start planning now for the big 50th anniversary celebration in just three years.


Noted hurricane forecaster Dr. William Gray has offered up his 2008 Atlantic hurricane season predictions. (The season begins on June 1 and runs through November 30.)

Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).
Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).Courtesy NOAA

Gray's team, working out of Colorado State University, is predicting an above-normal season, with 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes (category 3 storms or higher). Why? A La Nina pattern creates cool water conditions in the Pacific and warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic. Warm sea surface temperatures are critical to the formation of hurricanes.

What's "above average"? An average hurricane season produces about 10 tropical storms and 6 hurricanes. In 2007, 14 tropical storms formed, and 6 of those strengthened into hurricanes. But 2005, of course, was a record-shattering year, with 28 storms, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Here's the Science Buzz feature on hurricanes.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Katrina, started on 8/29/2005.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Rita, started on 9/22/2005.

Buzz thread on the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season

Buzz thread on the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season

Do you know about the 1938 hurricane that crashed into New England?

Interesting weather websites

Share your natural disaster stories.

And, lastly, here are the hurricane names for 2008:

  • Arthur
  • Bertha
  • Cristobal
  • Dolly
  • Edouard
  • Fay
  • Gustav
  • Hanna
  • Ike
  • Josephine
  • Kyle
  • Laura
  • Marco
  • Nana
  • Omar
  • Paloma
  • Rene
  • Sally
  • Teddy
  • Vicky
  • and Wilfred

This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!
This is embarrassing: Come on people! Let's get it together! They could show up any day now!Courtesy Bifford The Youngest
All this time I’ve been saying that we’re living in the future, and now I’ve been made to look like a damn fool.

It turns out that this isn’t the future at all. It’s only, like, the present. Or maybe even the past. God, I feel so trashy. It’s like when I spent all that time walking around in my cool sweat pants, and then it turned out that sweat pants were, you know, never cool.

How do I know it’s not the future now? Because pretty soon a huge new piece of science may make time travel possible. Not from now to the past, but from the future to now…making us the past. It’s too much! It’s like we’re stuck at the lame table in the lunchroom!

Deep breaths… I’ll back up here.

This summer will see the completion of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, “the most powerful atom smasher ever built.” Now, as usual, this atom smasher is all about studying the weirdest, most dizzyingly small pieces of existence, but the most relevant upshot of this (as far as JGordon is concerned) has to do with time travel.

Some scientists think that when the energies of the LHC are concentrated into a subatomic particle, the fabric of space and time—“spacetime,” to save a valuable wordbreak—may do something embarrassing, like rip its pants. (Check out a link or two on spacetime if you feel like getting punched in the lobe.) This rip in the pants of spacetime can be characterized, rather unfortunately, as a wormhole.

A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.
A wormhole: English majors fall into it and die.Courtesy Benji64
According to one school of thought over time travel, a wormhole might be used to travel through time. Or, really, as a shortcut through time, since we’re all kind of traveling through time anyway. The idea, as best I can manage it, is that one end of the wormhole exists when it was created, the present (I like to think of this as “inside the pants”), and the other end is accelerated to some point in the future (“Outside the pants,” if you will).

No, I take it back. As much as I like to think of the future as outside my pants, maybe it’s better to think of it like this: We, in this god-awful, no flying cars present, somewhere in the left leg of the pants. The future, in all its pill-meal, robot-pet glory exists in the right pant leg. Now, to reach this corduroy promise land, we could just walk up the left leg and down the right leg like a bunch of saps (or wait for it to come to us, seeing as how we’re dealing with time) or we could build a Large Hadron Collider, something that could punch a hole right through the fabric of the pant leg, so we could just hop from one leg to the other, without screwing around on all that inseam.

What this means, if we’re talking about time again, and not pants, is that we haven’t so much created a time machine as a tunnel through time. This theory also explains why we haven’t had any travelers from the future yet: because while they might have the technology to keep their end of the wormhole open and traversable (which would require a sort of energy we mostly only theorize about at the moment), they can only go as far back as the original creation of the wormhole, which is now (or possibly this summer). My own theory as to why no tourists from the future have shown up here is a little more simple—why would anyone from the future want to come here? It’d be like someone who lives in Disneyworld (Mickey Mouse?) going to Fargo for vacation.

But who knows? Maybe this summer we can all get our pictures taken by people from the future.

Another school of though on time travel.


Dextre robot addition to ISS
Dextre robot addition to ISSCourtesy Canadian Space Agency

STS-123's 16 day mission

The space shuttle Endeavour's STS-123 crew is on track for a March 11 launch to the space station for a marathon construction flight expected to last about 16 days. The busy construction flight will include five spacewalks to assemble the Canadian Space Agency's two-armed robot Dextre, install the first segment of Japan's massive Kibo laboratory, test a shuttle heat shield repair method and deliver spare parts to the ISS. Europe's maiden ISS cargo ship Jules Verne will hover nearby, waiting to deliver its load of cargo.

Japan will add components to the ISS

Japanese astronaut Takao Doi will help deliver the storage room for his country's Kibo laboratory to the ISS for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Japan's Kibo facility consists of a storage pod, a massive pressurized laboratory and an external platform equipped with its own robotic arm.

Canadian Space Agency will assemble a huge robot

Putting together Dextre, a Canadian robot, will be one of the main jobs for the seven Endeavour astronauts. Standing 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, Dextre has two 7 jointed arms that are each 11 feet long.

Repairing heat shield tiles

When the space shuttle Atlantis flies to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in August, any damage to its space tiles will need to be repaired in space. Waiting for rescue at the space station will not be an option. A practice run of such a repair will be carried out on this mission.

Learn more - 114 page info packet

For a really complete information package describing the STS-123 mission in detail you might check out this 114 page press release (4.4MB, pdf).


Stranded Columbus crew starving in Jamaica

Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008
Lunar eclipse Feb 20, 2008Courtesy NASA Kennedy Space Center
Christopher Columbus sailed to the "New World" several times after his 1492 voyage. On his fourth and last journey ship worms so decimated his four ships that Columbus had to put ashore on the North coast of Jamaica and wait for rescue. Initially, the Jamaican natives welcomed the castaways, providing them with food and shelter in exchange for trinkets and whistles. When the natives no longer wished to provide food after more than six months, half of Columbus' crew mutinied, robbing and murdering some of the natives. With famine now threatening, Columbus formulated a desperate, albeit ingenious plan.

A bad moon is going to rise

Columbus, like all good sailors, had an almanac containing astronomical tables providing detailed information about the sun, moon and planets. Using its tables, Columbus calculated that on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 29, 1504, a total eclipse of the moon would take place soon after the time of moonrise. Three days before the eclipse Columbus told the chief that

his Christian god was angry with his people for no longer supplying Columbus and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: Three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear "inflamed with wrath," which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them.

According to Columbus's son, Ferdinand, when the moon started to eclipse, the natives ". . . with great howling and lamentation came running from every direction to the ships laden with provisions, praying to the Admiral to intercede with his god on their behalf." Just moments before the end of the total phase Columbus reappeared, announcing to the natives that his god had pardoned them and would now allow the moon to gradually return. Columbus and his men were well supplied and well fed until a relief caravel from Hispaniola finally arrived on June 29, 1504.

Total Lunar eclipse Wed. Feb 20 from 9-10 p.m. CST

Click this for information on when the lunar eclipse occurs around the world.The moon will start entering Earth's shadow at 7:43 pm CST Wednesday. Click this next link for an explanation of how and why you see the moon colored blood red, bright orange, or even a gentle turquoise.


It seemed like a good idea at the time: But immediately after this photo was taken, the alien bored its way through her skull and nested in the right hemisphere of the singer's brain. We might learn something from this.
It seemed like a good idea at the time: But immediately after this photo was taken, the alien bored its way through her skull and nested in the right hemisphere of the singer's brain. We might learn something from this.Courtesy aymanshamma
The future of the human race, indeed the future of the planet Earth, has been foolishly gambled on the taste and temper of distant alien civilizations, some scientists say.

This week, NASA began to beam the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” across the, er, universe. Well, not across the universe exactly—the transmission was aimed at the North Star, 431 light years away. Sir Paul McCartney was enthused over the action, and Yoko Ono had something to say (which I skipped over, because it was weird and boring). Ringo Starr, oddly enough, seems not to have been notified.

The transmission has also raised discussion over just what humans should be broadcasting to other planets, and what potential risks might be associated with such actions. This has been a particularly hot topic among SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute researchers at the “Sounds of Silence” conference at the Arizona State University in Tempe this week. “Before sending out even symbolic messages, we need an open discussion about the potential risks," says one SETI member.

I agree entirely. I’m afraid, however, that the damage may already have been done. As the article points out, transmissions from Earth have long been washing across the universe. Military transmissions have already penetrated deep space, and, more worryingly, old episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek” pass through an average of one star system a day. We can only hope that some of the more sensitive aliens haven’t been paying close attention to their television sets—I’m not sure how many aliens they can watch William Shatner punch out, or how cheerfully they can bear Lucy’s cough-syrup addiction, before they decide that the universe might be better off without humanity. Then again, maybe aliens are into that kind of stuff. They might just be on the edge of their seats (or whatever aliens sit on, if they sit), waiting for the next episode of Full House. What will happen to Comet? Is the family safe under Danny’s tentative grip on normal human behavior? And what about Uncle Jessie’s hair? Don’t laugh, people—you all know that things work out for the Tanners, but the aliens are way behind us.

Another SETI researcher sensibly pointed out to those who might harbor serious concern over the Polarisians reaction to “Across the Universe” that "the one thing we know about aliens - if they do exist - is that they are very, very far away."

Yes. That’s true.


The Netherlands has a long history of flooding – over half the country is below sea level – and during the North Sea flood of 1953, nearly 2,000 Dutch lost their lives in a flood after sea water breached several dikes and water poured into unsuspecting villages during the night of February 1, 1953. Even before this particular natural disaster, the Dutch had been dealing with the problems of living in a low-lying area, and in the 1950’s embarked on a massive civil-engineering project called Delta Works.

Delta Works is a network of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers that are set up to protect the Netherlands from future flooding. The work is incredibly vast, and was completed in 1997 when the Maeslantkering (the largest moving structure on Earth) was completed.

But now, the Netherlands faces another problem – global warming – and the associated risk of increased winter rain in Europe, according to the climate-change models. That will bring high water to the Meuse and Rhine rivers that flow into Holland. The strategy is now different. Instead of the historic approach of raising the heights of the dikes to contain the rivers, the Netherlands is going to lower some dikes to allow flooding in certain areas of the country to relieve pressure in others. So instead of keeping the water out, they are allowing the water, to a certain extent, go where it wants. The plan, called “Room for the River”, was featured in a recent NPR story. The story includes a cool feature that shows the impact of climate change on low-lying regions around the world.