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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

The Aurora

 

A different Aurora.

[*This is an article I wrote for a class in response to an incorrect article in a local newspaper*]
The winter season brings with it more viewings of the Aurora Borealis or more commonly the Northern Lights. Sheets of red, blues and greens dance in the skies of far northern (and southern) latitudes. While it is commonly thought that the aurora is more prevalent during the winter it is in fact constantly active throughout the year. Winter months just provide longer nights in which to view the aurora.
The Aurora is caused by the interaction of energetic particles with the Earth’s ionosphere. These particles come from interactions within the magnetosphere of the Earth. The magnetosphere is the space created by the interaction of the Earth’s innate magnetic field (which we use for compasses) and the solar wind. The solar wind is a consistent flow of particles in the form of plasma that have blown off the surface of the sun.
When the solar wind reaches the magnetosphere of the earth a bow shock, similar to a boat, forms on the sun side of the planet. This deforms the magnetosphere into the shape of an elongated tear drop. In the stretched out tail of the magnetosphere the magnetic fields get stretched out and oppositely direction fields get closer together. These opposite fields can collapse together and send particles streaming back towards the earth.
These streaming particles then approach the upper reaches of the atmosphere where they are accelerated to high energies. As they zoom into the atmosphere they interact with the ambient particles and molecules, giving away their energy as they slow down. The now excited oxygen and nitrogen give off the characteristic red, green and blue lights that we see as the Aurora.
The current location of the auroral oval can be seen at spaceweather.com along with more information about the current space weather conditions. For more in-depth information on the physics of the aurora visit: http://deved.meted.ucar.edu/hao/aurora/

 

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Bead Physics

 

Glass Flower

A glass flower (sort of a weird material).

Often it is the simplest well thought out experiments that give the most interesting results. Like rotating a bunch of beads and seeing what happens.

My favorite part:

Why this should happen is unclear. No equations exist to describe why such a slight change in packing density should produce such different system-wide behavior. “Known mechanisms for granular convection could not be applied,” wrote Rietz and Stannarius.

I hope to find a good question like that during my science career, something simple and easy to understand that gives brand new results.

 

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1.9 Kelvin

My guess as to what it would look like to look down the LHC is running. Assuming on lived.

My guess as to what it would look like to look down the LHC while it is running. Assuming one lived.

Looks like everyone’s favorite soon to be turned on particle accelerator is about to start to be turned on!

At least it is down to a balmy 1.9 Kelvin at the moment with the hopes of running at full or near full power by December. Next week they may turn on the beam at low power to mark the start of the slow ramp up to full on Higg’s Boson finding power.

It will be really neat once the LHC is running at full capacity and sending out more data in a second then I can possible imagine. Also once that data is sifted through, analyzed and thought about will it start to get exciting. Maybe they will find a Higg’s boson (exciting) or perhaps nothing new at all (even more exciting). It will be exciting times in particle physics and I am glad to say that I will just be reading the final results and not searching through that data.

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Richard Dawkins

Multiple heads, not a good evolutionary choice.

Multiple heads, not a good evolutionary choice.

Richard Dawkins spoke at University of Washington today as part of the book tour for his new book. I went to hear him speak because he is Richard Dawkins, I tend to agree with what he says (funny how that sometimes makes events more appealing) and the event was free. Free was a big part of it.

The format was about half an hour of selected readings from his book followed by questions and answers. The excerpts were good, nothing really compelling enough for me to buy the book; I still have not finished The God Delusion. The best part was the question and answer session. Instead of the normal line up to ask a question or write them in and submit them, all of the questions were texted in and selected from a pool of texts.

The best question of the evening was essentially “What is your proof of evolution elevator speech?”. I thought this is a really good question since I have been in situations where I need easy, fast and concrete proof of evolution. He would use either the geographic distribution of species or genetic relationship.s

Geographic distribution is how species are located around the world. All the marsupials in the Australia area, penguins in the antarctic but not arctic and alpacas are only in South America. If Noah’s arc was true then the distribution should be peaked in the middle east with little to no diversity on the edges. Not to mention the tough swim some animals would face.

Genetic relationships are bit tougher to explain quickly, it is the tracing of particular genes among species. From that tracing a family tree of life can be made, no matter which gene is traced the tree comes out the same every time. It might be more convincing (well it is) however it is a harder concept to grasp compared to penguins and kangaroos.

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Go Science

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. At Night.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. At Night.

Today Armadillo Aerospace successfully completed the Lunar Lander Challenge II from Northrop Grumman.

Congratulations, and good luck with completing the next challenge and hopefully a second group will also make it past the second challenge soon. The more groups competing and reaching the benchmarks the better off the private space industry as a whole.

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LHC Start Up

A lightbulb used by Edison to test filaments.

A lightbulb used by Edison to test filaments.

Looks like the LHC is planning on starting up in November at half the maximum energy. 7 TeV instead of 14 TeV.

Doing something new is not easy, above is a photo of one of the lightbulbs Edison used to test new filaments. At the time it was revolutionary, now it is something so common we forget about it. The same goes for most pieces of modern technology, every now and then I take a step back, look at what we have and just marvel at it all.

Edison worked on his version of the lightbulb a hundred and thirty years ago, today I used my iPod Touch as a flashlight to find things in the dark.

Similarly around the same time the first telephone was coming into existance, now a small phone can call anyone from almost everywhere (and everywhere with a satellite phone).

Sometimes it is important to look at things in perspective when a several month delays occurs with a much anticipated piece of technology.

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Cosmic Rays

Shorts between these plates are caused by cosmic rays passing through.

Shorts between these plates are caused by cosmic rays passing through.

Visualization of abstract or complex scientific concepts has always intrigued me. More so is a live demonstration of those concepts.

In physics the basics are easily seen, mechanics is around is every day. Thermodynamic can be trickier but some neat tricks with rubber bands, half empty cans and sudden changes in temperature easily demonstrate many of the principles. Electromagnetism and optics takes a little bit more effort but can have stunning results.

In optics I was taught at first solid theory with no demonstrations of any of it. Then the next teacher I had realized this gap in the classes understanding so he set up a simple single/double slit experiment, it all suddenly made sense.

Eventually topics like generally relativity and solid state physics get harder to demonstrate in a simple manner. I do not mean in a basic lab experiment rather in front of an audience or to an elementary school student.

This is all why I love going to science museums, observatories and other sciencey places, to see the neat demonstrations. Recently I went to the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles and they had a small section for cosmic rays. Two demonstrations were there: a cloud chamber and a spark gap detector (I don’t know the real name off the top of my head). Cloud chambers are either really impressive or not exciting at all, I guess some places may add their own radioactive source to spice things up.

The spark gap detector was really cool. It had a slightly antique look to it with blue sparks and corresponding clicking noises. Best of all the sparks showed up really well on camera even with 1 second hand held exposures.

Now if only the tesla coil was turned on.

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