Tuesday/ creatures from Hansville

Here are some pictures that I took while I was in Hansville this weekend.   Be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry that shows the hummingbird’s wings in slow motion.

Clockwise from top left: Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) at Paul’s house (yes, the flower is plastic: it’s a hummingbird feeder); sand dollar skeleton close-up from the water’s edge; sand-dollars (Echinarachnius parma) are flat sea urchins and this one still has some of its dark covering of tiny spines; this tiny crab is just an inch across, and can melt into the sand to hide from larger crabs and sea gulls.

Monday/ the Webb space telescope

The Hubble space telescope turned 27 on Monday. After a troubled start with a faulty lens, it has by now provided many years of discoveries and spectacular pictures of the universe.  Plans are progressing nicely for the launch of the new James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Telescope’s replacement.  It is a project so ambitious, that it ate the whole NASA budget for some years, and was almost scrapped a number of years ago. Now, after 20 years, and with a budget of $8.7 billion, the James Webb telescope is on track to be launched in October 2018.  (New York Times article here).

Entirely new technologies had to be developed for it, such as the tennis court-sized sunshield for the lens. The shield has five layers and is made of a material called kapton. ‘It will then be unfolded in space in a series of some 180 maneuvers that look in computer animations like a cross between a parachute opening and a swimming pool cover going into place’ .. a process that will cause 6 months of high anxiety, says Bill Ochs, a veteran engineer at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland.

Picture and caption from NASA’s web site : It’s springtime and the deployed primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope looks like a spring flower in full bloom. Once launched into space, the Webb telescope’s 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.

Thursday/ asteroid watch

A large asteroid that ‘brushed’ by Earth (less than 5 lunar lengths away) on Wednesday was in the news recently, but I see we get smaller ones brushing by with a berth less than one lunar length just about every year.   In 2013 there was the Chelyabinsk meteor, that made a spectacular entrance into the atmosphere, even though it was just 20 m (65 ft) across.    So celestial objects larger than 100 m are serious trouble, since they might wipe out whole towns or cities.

Then there was the 10 km (6 mi) wide asteroid of 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs – and an even bigger one, thought to have hit Earth some 3.26 billion years ago, that was 37 km (23 mi) wide.  That last one caused an earthquake that would have measured 10.8 on the Richter scale.  Whoah.

YearAsteroids > 100 m (except 2013)SizeLunar Distance
2004Toutatis5,000 m (3.1 mi)4
Nov 2011(308635) 2005 YU55360 m (1,180 feet)0.84
Dec 20112011 XC2100 m (328 feet)0.9
2013Chelyabinsk meteor20 m (65 feet)0
20172014-JO25 'The Rock'650 m (2,000 feet)4.7

A graphical representation of the size of the asteroid thought to have killed the dinosaurs, and the crater it created, compared to an asteroid thought to have hit the Earth 3.26 billion years ago and the size of the crater it may have generated. A new study reveals the power and scale of the event some 3.26 billion years ago which scientists think created geological features found in a South African region known as the Barberton greenstone belt. Credit: American Geophysical Union

Monday/ the giant shipworm, alive

Check out the Washington Post report of an elusive mollusk called the giant shipworm.  It is as big as a baseball bat (and technically a bivalve, not a worm).  Scientists had known of it for hundreds of years, from shell fragments and a handful of dead specimens.   Recently a local TV station in the Philippines ran a short documentary about a strange shellfish living in a lagoon : the giant shipworm (kuphus polythalamia).

Wednesday/ the Greater Adjutant Stork

I like to read animal stories that is about saving them from extinction, since so many species are at risk.  This black bird – with a soulful glint in its eye – is the Greater Adjutant Stork, found in India and South-east Asia.  The Associated Press reports that the bird is a carnivore and scavenger, and had long been thought to bring bad luck.  The sentiments against it have turned, though.  Locals in areas close to its habitat are now making an effort to help it survive.

Tuesday/ the Larsen C ice shelf crack

An ice shelf is an enormous flat expanse of ice floating on the ocean. The crack in the Larsen C ice shelf is 1/3 mile deep, down to the floor of the shelf. This picture from NASA, taken in November 2016.

Antarctica’s Larsen A and B ice shelves already disintegrated in 1995 and 2002, but both were drastically smaller than the large ice shelf called Larsen C, on the Antarctic Peninsula.  The impending collapse of part of Larsen C will really not raise sea levels, but it could affect glaciers behind it, and accelerate their melting.  Check out this article and graphics from the New York Times.

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months
By Jugal K. Patel   – The New York Times, Feb. 7, 2017

A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day.

The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.

Saturday/ the volcano of Colima

There is even a webcam available to keep an eye on this bad boy.  All is quiet .. for now.

There was an eruption at the volcano of Colima in Mexico on Jan. 26.  (I did not even know there really are volcanoes in Mexico!).  This volcano is the most active in Mexico, and the night-time picture from Uleses Ruiz Basurto in TIME magazine features a volcanic lightning bolt as well.  Whoah .. better to keep some distance when earth and the heavens are this angry!

[From Wikipedia] The volcanoes of Mexico.







Thursday/ here comes Li-Fi

Check out Bloomberg Businessweek’s update about a new ‘Li-Fi’ technology that might start to get rolled out next year by some upstart companies.   The zeroes and ones for one’s internet connection will come through (and go back to) the overhead LED lights in the ceiling.  Hmm.

Friday/ the GOES-R satellite launch

I see I missed the GOES-R satellite launch on Nov 19 – a sophisticated new weather satellite that will beam weather images in 4 times the current resolution, and scan the atmosphere 5 times quicker.  In about another week, once GOES-R is situated in orbit 22,300 miles above Earth, it will be known as GOES-16.  Within a year, after undergoing a checkout and validation of its six instruments, the new satellite will become operational. Check out the description NOAA scientist Dr. Steve Goodman gave of the lightning mapper –

The GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) is a total lightning optical detector of in-cloud lightning and also lightning that strikes the earth, which we also call cloud-to-ground lightning. Ground-based lightning network data that you might see on TV use a network of radio receivers to locate the lightning. The lightning mapper is an optical instrument most correctly described as a transient event detector, rather than an imager as you might think of a camera taking pictures very, very quickly. The instrument processes 1 million pixels every 2 milliseconds, and does a frame-to-frame subtraction of the background at each pixel to identify lightning. If the current signal exceeds the background pixel amplitude level by a certain amount, the pixel is flagged as a lightning event. We use spatial (8 km pixel), temporal (2 millisecond sampling rate), and spectral filtering (we use the OI (1) oxygen emission line triple centered at 7774 nm) to detect the lightning optical pulse against the sunlit cloud top. Lastly, we do the frame-to-frame background subtraction mentioned above. The instrument processes all these data at 20 MHz and transmits all the detected data (lightning plus false non-lightning events) to the ground at 7.7 MB/sec. On the ground there are data processing algorithms to convert the detected signal to a geophysical radiance, geolocate, and assign attributes for each pixel. These pixels are further clustered in space and time to create “lightning flashes.” Thus, the final product that streams to users is a lightning flash with information on the radiance, latitude, longitude, and time. We cannot uniquely discriminate flash type- in-cloud or cloud-to-ground – on an individual flash basis; however, studies have shown that an increase in total lightning activity dominated by the in-cloud component is often a precursor to severe weather on the ground (tornado, wind, hail).


GOES-R was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 19 at 6:42PM EST.


Here is the satellite on the launch pad.

Saturday/ hematite pebbles


Hematite is the mineral form of iron (III) oxide (Fe2O3) and exhibits permanent magnetic properties.

I checked out these little hematite pebbles (ground into rhomboid shapes) at a little gem and jewelry store at Sea-Tac airport when I came in on Thursday.  Once you start playing with them, they are hard to put down (and so I had to buy a few!).   The pebbles are magnetic, and immediately stick to each other if they get within a range of two inches or so.  Electro-magnetism is one of the four forces between particles in our physical universe : electromagnetism, gravitational, weak nuclear and strong nuclear.

Saturday/ the Greenland shark

This article about Greenland sharks is fascinating.  Sharks don’t have bones for carbon dating, so a research team used a protein in the shark’s eye to determine that these sharks easily reach 200 years in age, and some that are almost 400 years old have been found. They only reach reproductive age at an estimated 156 years!


Picture by Julius Nielsen, from the on-line article on http://arstechnica.com/

Thursday/ warm weather

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Bright little red flowers from my walk Thursday night .. not sure what these are, but they do look like little carnations.

We have had the warmest April on record, and some unseasonably warm weather here in Seattle for May so far as well.  Some 20 degrees above average/ 11 degrees Celsius. So we will have to wait and see how high the peaks of the summer days will be, and if we are going to reach up into the 90s or even 100.  (The hottest temperature recorded here ever, was in the summer of 2009, on July 29, when the mercury hit 103 °F/ 39.4 °C).

Friday/ pump some hydrogen

Here is a hydrogen gas dispenser station that I noticed as I was filling up my rental car with fossil fuel gas on Thursday. Whoah, cool !  Let me take a closer look, I thought.  I’m still on the look-out for catching a glimpse of a FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle, such as a Toyota Mirai), on the freeways here in California.

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A hydrogen gas station near San Francisco airport. ‘True zero’, says the logo on the pump. There are only about 60 hydrogen stations in operation in the USA right now, clustered in and around San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles.

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H35 and H70 stands for different pressures of the hydrogen gas. For H35, the fuel goes directly into the vehicle. If the driver is dispensing fuel at H70, the hydrogen first goes into another small compressor where the fuel is pre-cooled and compressed even more before dispensing. And the cost? About $16 per kilogram. A Toyota Mirai will take about 5 kg of hydrogen fuel.


Monday/ the Theory of General Relativity turns 100


This ‘Relativity Primer’ by Nigel Holmes appeared in a recent issue of Scientific American. Einstein’s equations correctly predicted the exact amount that light from behind the sun would bend when passing by it. When a 1919 experiment during a solar eclipse proved him right, it made him famous world-wide. In 1921, Einstein traveled through the United States to a media circus that probably wasn’t matched until the Beatlemania of the 1960s.

It is 100 years ago this November11-2-2015 9-21-09 PM that Albert Einstein published his series of four papers called ‘The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity’, each separated from the other by a week: on the 4th, 11th, 18th and the 25th of November 1915.   From the Einstein Archives Online :  ‘In Einstein’s universe, gravity is not regarded as an exterior force, but rather as a property of space and time, or spacetime.   Einstein’s curved four-dimensional spacetime ‘continuum’ is often likened to a suspended rubber sheet stretched taut, but deformed whenever heavy objects – stars, galaxies or any other matter – are placed on it.  Thus, a massive body like the sun curves the spacetime around it and the planets move along these curved pathways of spacetime.  As Einstein put it : ‘matter tells space how to bend; space tells matter how to move’.

It is of course one thing to put forth a philosophical theory, but Einstein did much more than that. He wrote up a set of ten equations known as the Einstein Field Equations that described the fundamental interactions of gravitation, matter and energy in spacetime.

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Einstein donated his original manuscript in German to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925. It is on-line at http://www.alberteinstein.info/gallery/science.html.

Sunday/ fusion or illusion?

TIME magazine has an excellent write-up on the on-going efforts – and progress made – to build a fusion reactor to solve the world’s needs for cheap energy.  Check it out here. The engineering challenges are mind-boggling, but so are the possibilities, if humanity can ever solve the challenge of harnessing the energy released by controlled nuclear fusion.  From the TIME article : The endgame for these companies isn’t acquisition by Google followed by a round of appletinis. It’s an energy source so cheap and clean and plentiful that it would create an inflection point in human history, an energy singularity that would leave no industry untouched.

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