Monday/ another successful SpaceX launch

A robotic arm on the ISS will grab the payload as it inches closer to the Station. Those panels on the payload are the deployed solar panels, used to fire its boosters. (Diagram from the SpaceX webcast).

Of the things that came to my attention on Monday – for real, on TV and on-line – I was thrilled most by the webcast of the SpaceX launch.  The mission is dubbed Commercial Resupply Services mission number 12 (CRS-12), and the launch went without a hitch.

Reportedly, there are 30 small cups of real ice-cream for the ISS astronauts* in the 6,400 pound payload of cargo, that also has live mice and science experiments.   The first stage booster rocket made a perfect landing back to the launch pad, a nice bonus.

(The moment of lift-off, streamed live on YouTube).   From YouTube: On August 14, 2017, SpaceX successfully launched its twelfth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-12) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Liftoff occurred at 12:31 p.m. EDT, or 16:31 UTC and was followed approximately two and a half minutes later by separation of the first and second stages. The first stage of Falcon 9 then successfully landed back at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Friday/ the AWPAG is thirsty

We are all ready for cool weather, and a little rain, to take away the heat and the haze here in the Puget Sound.  And yes! – there is rain in the forecast for Saturday night! (The expected 56 days of dry weather by Saturday will be a new record on the books).

Seattle-Tacoma airport has a state-of-the-art AWPAG* rain gauge (a far cry from the graduated cone we once had in our backyard when I was young!).  The gauge is surrounded by two shields to improve readings under windy conditions, and will melt snow so that it can measure the liquid equivalent accumulation.  Fancy.

*All Weather Precipitation Accumulation Gauge (AWPAG)

Update Sun 10 am: 0.02 inch of rain at SeaTac late Saturday evening ended the record streak of 55 days (June 18-August 11) without measurable rain.

The AWPAG at Seattle-Tacoma airport (installed in 2006). The gauge has a so-called Tretyakov shield around it, as well as an 8-ft diameter Alter windshield.

Here’s a close-up of the guage. If it catches snow, the snow will be melted.  I’m not sure of the inside of this specific gauge, but some gauges will mix precipitation (rain, ice or snow) with glycol to melt any ice or snow; the oil reduces evaporation loss – and then the reading is calculated every few minutes and transmitted to a control center by a radio signal.

Saturday/ the weather’s fine but there may be a meteor shower

The Leonids made for a prolific meteor shower. Here is a famous depiction of the 1833 meteor storm [Source: Wikipedia].

‘Here is the news 
Coming to you every hour on the hour 
Here is the news 
The weather’s fine but there may be a meteor shower’
Songwriter: Jeff Lynne
Artist: Electric Light Orchestra, Album: Time (1981)
One of the downsides of living in the city is that the night sky is not dark enough to see faint stars and meteors.   Saturday and Sunday nights were good ones for the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, and one viewer here sent in a nice ‘shooting star’ video clip to the local TV news station.  The Perseids are starting to appear as well, and should peak August 11, 12 and 13.  These are known as the best summer meteor shower, with 50 or more meteors per hour.

Graphic from the USA Today (via web site, indicating where to look for Delta Aquarid meteors.

Wednesday/ osprey and Seahawk

Three ways to get to Kitsap Peninsula: take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, take the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry, drive around on south of Puget Sound.

Bryan and went out to Hansville on the Kitsap Peninsula on Wednesday (to our friend Paul). Instead of taking the ferry, we drove around the Sound.  The time is about the same as with taking the ferry provided there is no rush-hour traffic to deal with.    

Here’s an on-line picture of an osprey, the feather that I picked up, and the atlas that shows it is a wing feather, toward the tip of the wing.

Out in Hansville, I picked up an osprey* feather.  I found a handy feather atlas online that says it is a wing feather.

*Two side notes on the osprey:
1. Ospreys are sometimes called sea hawks but that is not really its correct name.   2. The Seattle Seahawks’ “Seahawk” is not actually a sea hawk. The 10-year-old bird that the football team’s name is lent from, is an augur hawk.  Let’s just say then, that ‘Seahawk’ is short for Seattle hawk!


Monday/ on Northern Lights watch

Seattle is on North America’s west coast, slightly below that speck that is Vancouver Island.

There were reports on Sunday night that Seattleites may see the Northern Lights*, and indeed, it was visible from here.  (For the record: I did make an effort to get a clear look at the northern skies look at around 11, but did not see anything!).

*The Northern Lights (‘aurora borealis’) are generated during geomagnetic storms in Earth’s atmosphere. During solar flares, clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms are expelled through the corona of the sun into space. When these clouds of particles reach Earth a day or two later, they interact with gas molecules in the atmosphere, resulting in the greenish color displays.

Skunk Bay is near Hansville out on the Kitsap Peninsula. Yes, this sighting is not nearly as spectacular as the ones one would get further up north in Alaska, but hey, there it is. Pretty cool.

Wednesday/ my elements collection (so far)

Check out my elements collection, mostly metals.  The little cylinder of pure Tungsten (W), and the mini-ingot of Zinc (Zn) are new additions.  I’m trying not to buy everything all at once from the wonderful website for Metallium Inc. based in Watertown, Massachusetts!

Admittedly, my collection has a long way to go.  I don’t even have pieces of iron or chrome in there, for example.  The hunt for those is on!

My elements collection counts only 14 elements so far. It has coins made from pure nickel, aluminum, silver, copper and gold. The yellow metal cone is brass (alloy of copper and zinc, so not an element).  That drill bit does not count as an element either: it is stainless steel with tungsten carbide cutting edges.

Thursday/ building the sun

Check out these illustrations from the New York Times, of the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor, underway in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in Provence, France.   It is a structure that will be some 100 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall, with the largest stainless-steel vacuum vessel ever made, and an electro-magnet so strong that it could lift an aircraft carrier.

This is the stuff that science fiction is made of.  The first major operating goal for the plasma chamber is to contain pure hydrogen that will not undergo fusion, ‘first plasma’ (target: 8 years from now).  Then the goal is to establish a so-called burning plasma, which contains a fraction of an ounce of fusible fuel in the form of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, which can be sustained for perhaps six or seven minutes, but will release large amounts of energy (in the form of heat).  This goal will not be achieved until 2035 at the earliest.

[From the New York Times] ITER, short for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (and pronounced EAT-er), is being built to test a long-held dream: that nuclear fusion, the atomic reaction that takes place in the sun and in hydrogen bombs, can be controlled to generate power. First discussed in 1985 at a United States-Soviet Union summit, the multinational effort, in which the European Union has a 45 percent stake and the United States, Russia, China and three other partners 9 percent each, has long been cited as a crucial step toward a future of near-limitless electric power.

Tuesday/ forever spin

‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ said Leonardo da Vinci once, a quote that appears on Toronto-based metal top maker ForeverSpin’s web site.

Tops are among the world’s oldest toys, and it really is fascinating to watch a spinning top, no?  (But yes, we live in the real world, and so due to the hard reality of friction, the top does not really spin forever, of course).

I think I should go for Tungsten, the heavy one, with the added bonus that chemical symbol W for wolfram matches my first initial. Hmm, yes.

It’s just so hard to choose which one of the 17 tops (ForeverSpin does a fine job of marketing, romanticizing the metals): titanium (the ‘strongest one’), 24kt gold mirror (the ‘luxurious one’), stainless steel (the ‘original one’), copper (the ‘classic one’), aluminum (the ‘playful one’), Damascus steel (the ‘unique one’), rose-plated gold (the ‘romantic one’), 24kt gold plated (the ‘stylish one’), magnesium (the ‘lightest one’), cast iron (the ‘medieval one’), zirconium (the ‘exotic one’), brass (the ‘mature one’), stainless steel mirror (the ‘shiny original’ one), bronze (the ‘ancient one’), nickel (the ‘fine one’), tungsten (the ‘heavy one’) or black zirconium (the ‘elegant one’).

Still from the website, showing how the tops are fashioned with a numerically-controlled (NC) lathe.




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.