Category: Space


BBC won, BBC two

Reliability doesn't mean not hilarious

Reliability doesn’t mean not hilarious

by chelsea schuyler

As I scan the BBC World News for ideas for blogs, sometimes I can barely get past the title for laughing. Some days are complete gems. For example, one single day and one single click to the Science and Environment page, gave me these results:

First headline: “Earth’s Core far hotter than thought.”

flippin hot.  eggs over sidewalk?

flippin hot, basically. eggs over sidewalk?

I love these kind of statements. Hey everyone, something we really can’t imagine is even more unimaginable than we’d ever imagined! Before, everyone disagreed about how hot the earth’s core was, though it was thought to be about 5000 degrees Celsius. How hot is that? Well, I’m all about the metric system, but let’s face it, in terms of boggling an American’s mind, you had us at Celsius. So what can we relate it to?

core of the matter

core of the matter

The all-time highest temperature on Earth’s surface is 56.7C (134F) in Death Valley, California in 1913. We almost broke the record this summer as you may recall hearing, the same time Las Vegas apparently thought, “what better time for an outdoor concert in the afternoon?’  34 people were hospitalized for heat exhaustion, 200 more treated on the spot with shade and water. Shade? There wasn’t even shade?? Vegas, little comin to Jesus here. Be ye not experts on scorching, body-filleting temperatures? I guess you just really haven’t experienced the Vans unless your inner fluids are at a boiling point.

ANYWAY, now we estimate the Earth’s core at 6000C (11,oooF, ish), which is about the temperature on the surface of the sun. This is enormously helpful if you’re a scientist working with magnetic fields and earthquakes and things. For the lay person, it’s still just more friggin hot than whatever we thought friggin hot was. Who’s up for a Doors show??

Next headline: “UK shale gas bonanza ‘not assured’ ”

freak gasoline accident

freak gasoline accident

I love picturing the author of this article, environmental analyst Roger Harrabin, deciding on the word “bonanza” for this piece. I mean, I suppose it’s effective, the last thing anyone wants is their bonanza not being assured. …So many birthday parties. And can you really have a gas bonanza that doesn’t imply some impeding horrible accident a la Zoolander gas fight explosion?

Next headline: “ ‘Urgent need’ to remove space debris”

brain peeAgain with the word choice, I mean don’t you just feel like “urgent need” is limited to either really needing to pee, or fixing world wide problems like Darfur scale genocide? No spectrum, just those two. But this is actually pretty interesting in the nerdverse, and I think justifies the new association with the phrase.

An international nerd meeting has concluded that there is way too much useless man made stuff in earth’s orbit. Really? We’ve been up there like 10 times, how bad could it be? But oh yeah, all those tv, radio broadcasting, weather, communications, and global positioning satellites, space stations, rocket experiments, and human waste (including NASA’s armoire-sized ammonia container that comfortingly wasn’t safe enough to dispose of on Earth, and the epic thermal glove lost by space-walker Ed White in 1965).

I think I know who got the glove in the end...

I think I know what happened to that glove…

There are 30,000 pieces over 10cm and tens of thousands more smaller ones like screws and bolts and flecks of paint. The more space debris, the more they collide, break apart, and create even more pieces to potentially collide, a scenario called the Kessler effect. Concern is increasing, as they’re all traveling at hypervelocity (17,000mph) in different directions around low-Earth orbit, and won’t be pulled down by gravity for generations.

doubtfire The worry is, if we wait too long to do something about it, our Earth with be so surrounded that we won’t be able to take our evening walks into space anymore for fear of being run-by-debried.

I don’t know why we can’t just make like Saturn and organize some top notch rings, but the high nerds at the meeting suggested various other solutions, including the use of “harpoons, tentacles, ion thrusters and lasers” to fix the problem.  Okay, okay, all we need is  Captain Ahab, the squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Enterprise, and Dr. Evil to save the world from flying death pellets of our own creation.

from...plus...equals Right??

this…                                               plus this…                       equals this!
Right??

Last and definitely least, the headline:
“ ‘Big cat’ was on loose in UK in 1903”

Nothing says breaking news like centuries old, long dead, escaped wild animals. And can we define big?  Because I think LION, I think TIGER, but no.  Cougar? Cheetah at least? No. The menacing, gargantuan 24 pound  Canadian lynx.  This isn’t your default Eurasian lynx, which is a good 70 pounds, this Canadian version is  “two to three times the size of a domestic cat.”  Two to three times people, hide your children. This cat of Ulster was terrorizing the green fields of equal-sized foxes in the English countryside until it was finally shot and stashed in a museum, to be uncovered this year. (Not really a) mystery solved!

Fantastic day BBC, capital indeed.

Canadian lynx not shown due to diminutive negligibility

Canadian lynx not shown due to diminutive negligibility

The Perfect Party Tape

by chelsea schuyler

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! This year I am thankful for the Golden Record. Because if there is anything more symbolically enthusiastic about Nature and Science, I cannot think of it right this second.

i see what you probed there

Can’t talk about the Golden Record without talking about the famous Voyager probe sent into space in the 1977. There were two actually, named, shockingly, Voyager 1…..AND….Voyager 2. Whoa.

flight plan of convenience

Remember the’70s? The only time when the phrase “the planets are aligned” actually meant something to anyone other than Virgos, because Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were shacking up for a planetary reunion that wouldn’t happen again for 176 years! A perfect time to toss a camera out the window and shoot pictures,  relying on the gravity of one planet to propel it to the next – so cool.

crazy Jupiter detail from Voyager 1

NASA got to watch as images from the Voyagers were sent back, showing the planets in incredible detail. We knew so little about the outer planets until these probes. It’s the solar system equivalent of looking first through a peephole covered in cheesecloth and then opening the door. Like knowing about Russia from what Sarah Palin can see from her house, versus actually being in Russia. I HIGHLY recommend watching a documentary on these probes, because the scientists who were there are freaking out the entire time at the ridiculous influx of information that they would be studying for years to come.

consider the vcr

34 years later, they’re still operational, though now they’re both chillin in the Heliosphere, which is the very edge of our solar neighborhood. That’s quality machinery. This is back when NASA must have also been making VCRs, which, if you’ve kept yours, you’ll notice are also still operational, unlike these piece of @!#$% dvd players of which I am on my third. Anyway…

What’s REALLY cool is what they’ve got hitchhiking on their sides.

Record affixed to side of Voyager by TV room Oompa Loompas

 

 

 

 

The Voyager Golden Phonograph Record (which is actually gold-plated copper (so they’ll know what cheapskates we are) is a human time capsule for the interest and education of any aliens that might find it.  There is a needle included and mathematical/visual instructions on the outside for how to play it.

Can you imagine?? It’s the ultimate mixed tape!! Okay, soundtrack to humanity, two hours, go. Epic much? Who would you expect to create such an important representation of Earth?  Carl Sagan of course! Doesn’t that just spin you right round?

Sagan, et al compiled 115 color and b&w images, 2 hours of music samples, nature sounds like whales and thunder, and greetings spoken in 55 languages. (“Greetings organizer” = coolest title ever and belonged to then-wife of Carl Sagan, Linda. They had a son Nick Sagan, who went on to write several Star Trek Voyager episodes. It’s allllll connected….man.)

The images are hilarious, they’re so ’70s it’s great, straight out of a photo album. Included is kind of a Rosetta Stone of our mathematical symbols, makes sense.  Oh but the pictures taken from space are so pathetic. Ironic, since the Voyager’s whole purpose was to take better pictures. They basically strapped the photos from a disposable point-and-shoot to the side of a Canon EOS and ejected it into space, hoping the aliens will find meaning from the point-and-shoot.

elvis did not make the cut

The music most known for being on the record is:

– Mozart (late 1700s, Austrian. Classical)
– Igor Stravinsky (early 1900s, Russian. Neoclassisism–which I still don’t understand really, I think it’s basically people in the 1900s trying to bring back classical. In this case, think epic ballet music)
– Guan Pinghu (early 1900s, Chinese guqin player (freaky Chinese instrument no doubt Made in China))
– Beethoven (late 1700s, German, Classical/Romantic)
– Chuck Berry (mid 1900s, American. Rock and roll)

who else?

Steve Martin did an SNL sketch as a psychic who predicts the aliens will send us back a message in four words: “Send More Chuck Berry”

Also included are Navajo chants, Aborigine songs, Louis Armstrong, Peruvian panpipes, etc. Check out the complete list here. And no they did not play Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” which would have been awesomely misleading. I was listening to the music as I wrote this, and you can too!

Really you gotta wonder if some embittered NASA janitor slapped on a separate record when no one was looking just to screw with them.  A rainbow record bedazzled in sequins, encoded with a recipe for a twinkie, the music of a christmas carol sung in cat meows, images of pac-man, and the word for “diarrhea” and “pink” in 55 different languages. Figure that out, aliens.

A quote on the record from the then Secretary General of the United Nations:

…I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship, to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.

Earth. Rocks.

 

I love that, to “be taught if we are fortunate.” I love this record, it’s such a statement- Look how incredibly awesome everything can be here, is there no one out there that can appreciate it?

The extreme unlikelihood of this record ever being received by extraterrestrials or still in a shape to be interpreted makes me love it all the more. Why the hell not, we should be proud, our planet rules, and What If, you know? I’ll drink to that. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Science Scraps

jesus fudd

Is not the internet filled with little hilarities?  So often I can’t share them with you because they really have nothing to do with nature or my current topic at the time.  I just can’t hold it in.  They must be shared, because what, if not enthusiasm, does funniness but make?  So this blog is dedicated to the random tidbits I find along the way that I want you to be a part of.  A behind the scenes if you will.

1) The Stegosaurus blog for example, and really every dinosaur blog, required me to look up image charts for height and size, and eon and era information so I could sound smart when I told you about stuff.  You see a lot when looking on Google images. My favorite picture that unfortunately just wasn’t relevant at the time was this one:
The dude is waving. I love that he’s waving. “Hi! Dave here. Join me as I’m about to get eaten by four separate species of prehistoric carnivore of various heights for the benefit of your education.”

2) I wrote an article for GreenAnswers about how it turns out orange juice strips away your enamel, and in my research one site recommended a tactic to minimize contact with teeth, saying:

not cheap

“Juice lovers might want to plan ahead and perhaps purchase some discount straws to better protect their teeth.”

Yes, but where?!! Where can I purchase these “discount straws,” for straws in this economy are so very unaffordable, and I must “plan ahead” for the inevitable day when Jesus leads the rapture and I will surely be drinking orange juice with my brethren.

3) I listen to Pandora during my writing, because I’m not as obsessive about it as making my own playlists, and can therefore focus on the

polka was unable to save this man

writing. Pandora has ads unfortunately, which I mute after one second. So I have memorized one second of every ad, usually stuff like “What will Google offer?” “Home Depot” and “Hi, I’m Tom Shane.”  But one day I heard: “Polka can save your life.” Hearing just this phrase I wished I could simply appreciate it without any explanation.  But I had to know, and it turns out to be a slogan for Kaiser Permanente, as an example of music’s de-stressing effects.  Yet I wonder, is the life that polka saves a life worth saving?

4) For my atheist party a few weeks back I was looking up various religious dishes. Mostly it was easy, but Buddhism was hard to come by. Until I found a site that was quite confident in its knowledge of Buddhist dishes.  Google search proclaimed:

traditional Buddhist dish

“Over 3 Buddhist recipes!”

So, four then? The site turned out to be no longer available. So, zero.

5) A lot of my blogs begin with news articles from different sources, including:
a) the BBC website, who reported one day that:

“The US’ biggest particle physics lab appoints a committee to establish whether a new unanticipated particle has been found.”

People, people, did we, or did we not, anticipate this particle?  ORDER please… And was the word ‘unanticipated’ really necessary?  Can a particle really be new and anticipated?  ‘Ah, there it is.  Finally, I knew it was coming…’

b) the newspaper, who reported recently that a gamma ray outburst can be traced to a black hole (thank you, whichever roommate passed that along btw) and said that:

“The intensity of the outburst, measured in some wavelengths not visible to the naked eye, was as bright as a hundred billion suns…”

turtleneck sold separately

First of all, can anyone even conceptualize one hundred billion suns?  Carl Sagan was all over this kind of talk and I laughed every time.  He was worse though, saying stuff like ‘eight thousand billion light years away.’  As if breaking it down to thousands of billions is easier to swallow than just saying trillions. This stone is four thousand million decades old. What?

Second of all, how is something as bright as a hundred billion suns not visible to the naked eye? and if you are talking about a wavelength not visible to the naked eye, are you really going to compare it to The Sun, something SO visible we can’t even look at it or our eyes will actually break?

Suck it McDonald’s!

c) the NASA website, who recently headlined:

“NASA’s Hubble Makes One Millionth Science Observation”

Only NASA would actually keep track past 100 how many observations their Hubble had made. And observation doesn’t mean photo, like the picture shown implies. The one millionth science observation was actually a spectroscopic measurement, which basically divides light and records its patterns, telling us about the composition of a planet that an artist nicely rendered for us here:

possibly somewhat related to the 1,000,000th observation. note it is tens of hundreds times smaller than the sun in the background

That’s all folks. I hope you are satisfied with this behind the scenes expose, and do not regret your dvd purchase.

I totally called that particle.

 

by chelsea schuyler

Once again, it’s all about space.  Space cats.  Thunder cats had it all wrong (but oh so right, …I digress).

So I was thinking the other day, I says to myself I says: “how could purring possibly have evolved? What would have selected for such a complicated, albeit endearing, form of expression?” And self was all:

Yes, cats use purring to express contentment, but  it turns out that cats purr during births, injuries, and severe distress as well as when blissed out.

PURR!!

Not just domestic cats purr by the way, any feline that doesn’t roar can purr. Cheetahs, cougars, ocelots, servals, and caracals can all do it, and some have evolved it independently. So what’s the big advantage?

Meanwhile, IN SPACE, astronauts muse that though they have the coolest job, they suffer a high price, mainly, bone density loss. And vomit that floats around. Anyway, because Neil Armstrong, et al have no gravity to demand simple resistance exercises like standing and walking, their muscles fall to disuse and bone density decreases. They’ve made specialized exercise machines, but i guess they aren’t working so well.  What To Do?

plus healing superpowers

Meanwhile, IN CATS, we’re noticing how ridiculously well cats heal themselves. Over 90% of 132 cats survived 5.5 story falls from apartments (point 5? damn you mezzanine!). Skin grafts and surgery recovery are extremely successful and speedy. Cats are healthier than dogs, they never seem to suffer from dysplasia or luxating patellas or other bone badnesses (bad to the). (Granted humans have been more obsessive about selecting for horrendous skeletal structures in dogs, see bulldogs, dachshunds, german shepherds, etc but even so, the statistics are impressive.) Why they so lucky?

Enter the scientists! Specifically Dr. Clinton Rubin, who put it together that healing and bone mass are both stimulated by vibration, and what do you know, purring in cats happens to fall within 25-140 Hz (Hz = Hertz = cycles per second) which is proven to be physically therapeutic. Most cat species have the perfect harmonics in their purr to contribute to pain relief and tendon repair.

But how do you prove that it’s the purring specifically helping the cats out? You can’t take the purr out of the cat to see what happens cuz it’s all related to the diaphragm n stuff, and the trauma to the animal would automatically disqualify your observations.  and reserve your spot in hell.

Enter the…chickens?  Apparently you don’t take the purr away, you give it to something else.  Dr. Rubin stuck a bunch of chickens on a vibration plate for 20 minutes and then measured their bone strength.

yes! though a turkey stands in for a chicken, this is actually Dr. Rubin. you have no idea how excited I was to find this picture. I think i just anabolized 2% more bone density

Yep. Science ladies and gentlemen. Best. Subject. Ever. I wish someone would explain to me why chickens were the obvious choice for this exercise, though the hilarity of chickens bouncing around like popcorn in a box cannot be denied. (Of course the vibrations weren’t that strong, barely even visible).

10 minutes a day

And I don’t see how a plate is more accurate than strapping a cat to each chicken, but I suppose they knew what they were doing.

The experiment was repeated on rabbits (um, thank you, way more sense. Low to the ground, quiet, sane, mammals) and their bone strength increased 20%.

only rats. not a far cry really...

Then the rats came in, and things got really creative. They had three groups.  Group 1 was prevented from using their back legs during the day. (i’m picturing those paralyzed dogs they attach little wheelchairs to. I so hope that’s how they did it, I would totally take a picture and put it on facebook)

Group 2 the same, except for 10 minutes each day they were allowed to walk around normally. Group 3 same, except they had 10 minutes of vibration therapy instead of exercise.  Results?

Group 1 (no nuthin never) – 91% bone formation loss.
Group 2 (10 min  exercise) – 62% bone formation loss.
Group 3 (10 min good vibrations)– almost no loss whatsoever.

Remember these? Actually making you big boned! The irony!

This is all still controversial (you say one thing about chickens on vibrators and astronauts get all raised-eyebrow), but it could be that we can save those poor orphaned astronauts from breaking their legs upon re-entry to Earth by applying purr technology. And you thought it was just a small step for man….Sources: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast02nov_1/
http://www.fasebj.org/content/15/12/2225.full
http://www.animalvoice.com/catpur.htm
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr
http://www.suite101.com/content/purring-helps-with-healing-a58330

Get One Load of This

moderate-extremely creepy

Spider webs.  Have you ever wondered how spiders can possibly make so much of that stuff?  It’s constant webbing all the time.  I thought our perpetual saliva production/recycling was impressive, but then someone gave me 6 saltines and i was sorely disappointed in our race.  Like it’s not bad enough that we only have two legs and two eyes.  The only satisfaction I have is that webbing is carried in liquid form in a sack inside the spider (only when it makes contact with air does it solidify and be the default webbing we know and love and wipe off our face 7 times every friggin time we go empty the compost.  not that i’m bitter). I may not be able to construct stronger-than-steel dreamcatchers on any ole branch, but at least i don’t feel like i have to pee all the time.  Four sets of crossed legs amuses me.

But scientists aren’t satisfied with such  mediocre sour grapes.  They’ve invented all kinds of villainous comic book ways to discredit the spider’s incredible creations.  Surely you’ve all heard of drugged spiders, which will always be fascinating, it’s the law.  I thought i would include this picture on principle, as a subtle reminder to the coffee drinkers of Portland just what Caffeine is doing to their productivity.  See other drug effects here.

the real price of coffee

1970s anti-gravity web-building station

What you may not have seen, are spiderwebs…SEEN FROM SPACE! (((SPACE, space, space))). No wait, UNDER THE EFFECTS OF SPACE!  (((um, space space space.  *ahem*))).

In 1973 two sad, humiliated European Garden Spiders (Anita and Arabella) were put onto a shuttle called Skylab 3 by sick-in-the-head Massachusetts college student Judy Mills to see if anti-gravity webs would be any different then peaceful, flowers-in-your-hair, earth webs.  The “spidernauts,” having been launched in their space vials, were totally WTF for a few days and had to be coerced onto the provided window box after impatient experimenters got tired of waiting.  Eventually, Arabella did make a web, the silk varied in thickness, unknown in gravity-laden spiders, but you try making a web in space and see how perfect you can be.   They then fed the spiders fillet mignon, gave them more water, and Arabella made a more consistent web.  Yes, fillet mignon, i wasn’t kidding.  Nasa Mignon is right next to the space ice cream at the science museum evidently.  Both spiders died on the flight.  Why?  Well, there was evidence of dehydration, my dear Watson.  Here lies the most confused spiders that ever lived, ever.

Exactly 30 years later another shuttle was launched, the STS-107 (lame, what happend to cutesy 70s names like ‘Skylab3?’), one entirely for scientific research with over 30 experiments to conduct and 7 crew members to conduct them.  The shuttle was in space for its scheduled 16 days.  However, it disintegrated upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, leaving no survivors.  Didn’t see that coming?   Apparently some foam piece broke off the thermal protection syst–whatever, the spiders totally did it.

So kids, don’t embarrass spiders, and never, ever, feed them fillet mignon.

Austrian artists collective "For Use" made a web out of 700 rolls of packing tape in this awesome Viennese building

um, little help...

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