September 09, 2014

Tuesday 'Splody

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of SCIENCE! Babes sends us this video from her research into the effects of comparatively small volcanic eruptions upon merchant shipping.

The Hephestian hoopla was caused by Mount Tavurvur in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on the 29th of last month. 

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August 21, 2014

Volcano Pr0n

No. Really....

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes seems rather embarrassed to report that Rule 34 applies to vulcanology.
You see, Carl over at Volcano Cafe has discovered two Icelandic volcanoes having sex under a glacier. Carl explains in graphic detail at the link below. 

TRIGGER WARNING! VOLCANO SEX! If you have ever been traumatized by pervy puking Plinian precipices procreating, then you should think long and hard about clicking here

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July 24, 2014

I Had NO Idea This Thing Was Real

Do want!

I'd seen this thing in some TV shows but I'd always thought it was a special effect. 

The Williams WASP was designed to meet an Army  from the 1970's.  It actually fulfilled all the requirements but twas not adopted as the Army beleatedly decided that the requirements were ill-considered. 

Good grief!  With a range of 30 miles it's really not all that much more impractical than a motorcycle for commuting. It can fly above traffic and the fact that it flies means it's significantly less dorky than a Segway.

This is the future we were denied!

Someone must make this happen. 

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July 22, 2014

Meanwhile, In China

Quite possibly less annoying than ants.

Two of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes bring us the latest in entomology news from China....

"Don't just stand there! Close the window!"
Oh. It appears they are having some minor difficulties with their discovery, so let us reassure you that these huge Dobsonflys are basically harmless. In fact, they've been know to the locals for some time and are recognized as a leading indicator of high water quality, which means that if current trends continue these magnificent animals probably won't be startling anybody for much longer. 

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July 21, 2014

95 Years Ago Today

Wingfoot Air Express was a passenger dirigible that ran a route between Grant Park in Chicago and the White City Amusement Park south of the city. 

The dirigible was one of several aircraft that operated from a short airstrip and a pier in the big urban park, which, being right next to The Loop, provided air service directly to and from downtown Chicago. 

On July 21st 1919 this all came to an end when, shortly after takeoff from Grant Park, Wingfoot Air Express caught fire directly over the Chicago Loop. The crew and passengers attempted to use their parachutes, but only the captain and mechanic survived as the dirigible exploded, fouling the other chutes in the collapsing rigging or setting them afire. 

However the disaster was about to get worse. Even given the fact that a position directly over the Chicago Loop is a most unfortunate place for an aircraft to explode, what happened next was improbably bad. The flaming dirigible crashed directly through the skylight of the Illinois Trust and Savings Building, rupturing the ships gas tank and spewing flaming gasoline all over the interior of the building. 

Pic and caption via

37 bank employees and customers were burned, hit by debris or both. 10 of them died.

The reaction from the city was swift. All air operations out of Grant Park and over the city were banned.  An airfield was built outside of town but Chicago's unique and growing air commuter businesses were all shut down as a result of the tragedy.

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June 03, 2014

Mt. Pavlof Goes "Boom!"

Quick! Someone call Don.

Alaska's rambunctious Mt. Pavlof is having a fit. Fortunately, the volcano is in a sparsely populated area and is unlikely to menace anyone on the ground with except unwary vulcanologists. However, it may well disrupt air travel between North America and Asia if the wind shifts and trends continue. The observatory page for the mountain is here. I was previously unaware that there are actually 4 Alaskan Volcanoes that have alerts issued for them right now. 

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May 23, 2014

On This Day In Aviation History

On May 23rd 1908, John Morrell prepared to conquer the skies in an airship of his own design. At 450 feet long, and filled with about 500,000 cubic feet of illuminating gas, the vessel was actually longer than any of the German Zeppelins that had flown. It was also a much more powerful ship as well, with five engines against the two in the German craft. 

In front of 15,000 citizens of Berkley California, the ship was made ready for flight. The crew of 15 boarded the vessel and manned their stations. 4 photographers were along as well to record the historic event.  With everything secured, the mooring lines were set loose.

 Morrell and his crew then sailed into aviation history.

Not only was this the largest airship built up to that time, the 20 people it took aloft were by FAR the largest number of people that had flown in single aircraft. One might note that 15 + 4 does not equal 20, but that is because the ship had another aviation first. An Australian aeronaut, a Captain Penfold, had somehow managed to sneak on board,  conceal himself (somehow) and thus became the first stowaway in the history of powered aviation!

The mighty dirigible began to cruise over the city at an altitude of 300 feet. The airship undulated regally for a while, as Morrell and his crew began to perform maneuvering tests. However,  as if to reinforce the unfortunate imagery,  after an unsatisfyingly short time, there emanated from the bow, an  Earth shattering "POP!". 

The forward end of the envelope burst open and deflated, beginning a rapid decent, while the stern remained aloft. Those in the bow had a remarkably gentle landing....for a brief moment....

...until the rest of the crew...and the engines fell  on them as the gangway became vertical. The engines equipment and crew coalesced into a modernist sculpture  of metal, blood, expletives and compound fractures.

Miraculously, although there were a LOT of broken bones, no one was actually killed. Morrell himself sustained a dislocated hip, broken leg and internal injuries. Capt. Penfold , the stowaway, was drug from the wreck with two broken ankles. 

The stern remained inflated and partially aloft for some time as a mute, Freudian testimony to the truly epic level of ignominy that Morrill and his intrepid crew of dildonauts had achieved....on this day in aviation history.


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May 01, 2014

Preparing the "SPLODY!"

These three videoes of nuclear tests are pretty dry, as they deal mainly with the preparations for the tests, but they are also facinating as they give a detailed oveview of how these test were conducted and how scientists were able to get a detailed picture of the progress of these horriffic explosions at intervals measured in millionths of a second. 

The first video (Tumbbler/Snapper) gives a very neat overview of the gadgets involved in monitoring these tests. It seems that a previous test had demonstrated vastly lower blast effects than predicted, indicating that their computer models, and more importantly their field manuals on how to use these weapons were completely wromg. The film goes into surprising detail about how they went about testing various theories on the cause of the anomaly and the mechanics of the devices used. Those smoke trails one sees in test footage...they were smoke rockets intended to give a visual reference for the blast wave...also the trees one sees getting all abused in test foottage are not native to the Nevada test site, but a transplanted forest. 

Two of these tests were very small (1 killoton) and aren't particularly impressive visually, but there is a satisfying 30 killoton blast at the end, so our tax dollars weren't completely wasted. Amusingly, there is a bit of audio censorship at 24:10 and 26:20. "We used a normal casing because of its...."

The second test, Teapot, three years later elaborates a bit on the techniques used to gather the data with 1950's technology and is also interesting because it is the test  that involved the metal sphere experiment that ended up inspiring Project Orion. (Stanislaw's Balls can be seen at 19:07) At the time the film was made no one knew the significance of this test and it's presented as a curiosity.

The final test lacks the engineering detail of the first two, but is also quite interesting, being a VERY elaborate civillian nuclear test by the civil defense authorities. Operation Cue was nominally one of the operation Teapot series of tests, but this particular test was administered by civil defense authorities and was intended to observe the effects of a nuclear bomb on civillian structures, provide a civil defense rescue and response drill under realistc conditions, and evaluate construction techniques to mitigate blast and radiation. Various civillian contractors were invited to test out their ideas. Operation Cue involved building a suburb and industrial park, populating it with manequins and dropping a 30 killoton bomb on it.  Cue followed on the heels of several military tests that investigated such effects as an aside and made use of lessons learned in those. 

One sobering detail is the somewhat more elaborate nature of the PPE in the Teapot tests.

One unrelated, but still interesting thing I noted thanks to Epic's tracking monitor is that when one looks at nuclear test footage on you tube one is beset by about an order of magnitude more trackers than  is normal for a you tube video. 


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March 31, 2014

And Now A Moment of "PEW! PEW! PEW!"

A working gauss gun.

OK, it doesn't penetrate the laptop screen, but the damage it does to the cans argues against shooting it in the apartment. I'm guessing it doesn't have much velocity but those long pellets might tumble quite effectively.

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March 30, 2014

And Now, A Moment of 'Splody

 While looking for something completely unrelated to all that stuff that's happening, I unwittingly blundered into this....

These are both brief but they are REALLY good clips of Upshot Grable, better known as the atomic cannon test. The second is from the film Trinity and Beyond. In general this particular test is known from a clip that was filmed near the cannon itself.  These short clips however, include footage from the hardened effects cameras in the target area. Note that while this is about the same size as the Hiroshima bomb, it has much greater blast effect over a smaller area. It was a very low airburst. Note too that the bomb is so much brighter than the sun that it gives the impression of a nighttime shot, whereas it was a daylight test as one can tell from the second clip.

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January 19, 2014

The Utility Seems Dubious At Best

Steven is asking a perfectly reasonable question.

Why would anyone want their refrigerator to have an internet connection?

Of all the appliances, one that would seem to have the least need for this is the refrigerator, since its only job is to maintain two or perhaps 3 CONSTANT temperatures. There is no need for updates, indeed they are unwelcome.

"By your hacker's command"

What am I missing here?

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January 05, 2014

This Time For Sure

 The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star is one of the most powerful icebreakers capable of reaching Antarctica. (The huge Russian atomic powered icebreakers can't cross the equator due to a quirk of their reactor design)

Fortuitously the American vessel is was en route to supply the Research station at McMurdo when the Australian government requested assistance in breaking free the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long which became hopelessly stuck while rescuing passengers from the Russian ice strengthened cruise ship Akademik Shokalskiy which, as we've been noting with considerable bemusement was on a scientific expedition to research global warming by studying Antarctica's retreating ice sheet...only to have the ice sheet rally, turn, fight and overrun their position.

The Polar Star, while nearly 40 years old,  can break 21 feet of ice and has three times he installed power of the much larger Chinese ship so odds are good that they'll be successful.

Interestingly the Polar Star nearly wasn't available having been decommissioned in 2008 as worn out and beyond economic repair. However, it was decided in 2010 to put put a maintenance crew on the vessel rather than scrap her and ultimately the vessel was refitted to soldier on for several more years to supplement her sister and the larger but less powerful Healy while a new class of icebreakers is designed...and hopefully built.

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January 02, 2014

In Defense of the Formerly Icebound Adventurers (Updated)

pic via BBC

Now that the passengers, both scientists and dilettantes have (thankfully) been rescued from the Akademik Shokalskiy I feel the need to come to their defense with limited snark.

I think they are getting a slightly bum rap.

The NYT has a piece denouncing the expedition as disrupting 'serious' science. The short version of this is that the rescue of this expedition is seriously impacting the logistics of other scientific endeavors on the frozen continent.

This is technically true as their article points out...French, Chinese, and Australian icebreakers were all in route to, or offloading supplies at base camps for other scientists when they were called to assist a vessel in distress. The NYT suggests that these endeavors were all more legit than the research being carried out by the self funded expedition.... They do note however that the expedition leaders are not novices at this...

The leaders of the current expedition – Chris Turney, Chris Fogwill and Greg Mortimer — are seasoned field scientists.  

So what is the problem here?

But the bungled trip now threatens to tarnish the wider field of Antarctic science.



The NYT is denouncing these recently quite highly regarded scientists because they encountered a (thankfully non-fatal) mishap that for their political allies has politically problematic optics. This may or may not be fair...but I'm pretty sure that the Old Grey Lady didn't have a problem with the expense and disruption involved in this.

Stuff can happen....especially in the best equipped and most professional. Ask Captain Scott.

The Spirit of Mawson Expedition went into an extremely unpredictable area about which not a lot is known. THAT'S WHAT SCIENTISTS DO! They made a discovery, probably several, because, rest assured freezing and stranding the ship was not part of the plan. It was however SCIENCE happening all around them getting steadilly thicker and they observed it. Science often involves  goeing into the unknown and that entails some risk. Antarctica is unpredictable and dangerous...that is why people don't live there.

Then there's this from the NYT article.
  Particularly vexing is what seems to be a devil-may-care attitude expressed by some of those on the trapped ship.

Oh my stars and garters! Bravado in the face of danger! How gauche!
What the HELL else are they supposed to do...cry? Be overly dramatic regards what was did not seem to be a life threatening situation? Sit down in their footsie Pajamas drink cocoa and talk about health insurance? Oh...right...NYT. far as I'm concerned this is a feature and not a bug. Props to these guys on that score at least. In fact it's cold enough there that even I wouldn't begrudge them footsie PJs! Besides, they did what scientists in the field often DO... they stuck with it, kept calm and kept observing. Read about Roy Chapman Andrews (Combat Paleontologist) sometime. The fear that they were so politically motivated that they would stay and get someone killed turned out to be unfounded. It looks like they did not flee prematurely nor too late.

Let's review...A freak storm and cold snap stranded their ship. Now because several of the scientists are allegedly* outspoken advocates of AGW theory and associated economically dubious mitigation efforts...and ALL of the on board patrons are,  those of us who are a bit skeptical of their political stance on this issue had a good hearty laugh at the amusing irony of the situation, This is not that different from what our our political opponents did here and here...except for the minor detail that no one was laughing at innocent deaths.

That being said, while I think that much of the amusement on the right is understandable in that context, I think we should cut these adventurers a break.

" Halp! We're stuck in a 16 foot thick pile of Global Warming!"

A small break....

One of the non-economic complaints about AGW science is that it relies too much on models, which are only as good as the (necessarily incomplete) data put into them. The models don't seem to have been reliable in predicting recent trends.

These scientists went to an area that had been extensively surveyed about a hundred years ago but has been largely unobserved since in order to collect data on how it has changed over that considerable time...this is exactly the sort of research we want done. The scientists who led the expedition reportedly have a theory that carbon emissions are dramatically affecting the climate. So they went to test their theory in the field. THIS IS SCIENCE!

There seems to be much hand wringing over the fact that this expedition was funded by rich patrons who got a Antarctic vacation out of it (admittedly a  much more exciting one than they anticipated). Well that is the way science was normally done for centuries. There's a limited pot of National Science Foundation monies and this delightfully free market model demonstrably works (this is proved by them getting there and discovering way more ice and colder temperatures than they thought. ) This sort of model seems a very good compliment to the generally successful NSF model.  

Now...If the scientists had been looking for Antarctic space NAZI's and their saucers or something I'd be a little more sympathetic to the argument that their mishap disrupted legit research needlessly...but whatever political quibbles I might have with their patrons, they displayed the courage of their convictions with cash and their presence and I salute them for that. As for the scientists , they put together an expedition to a largely unknown area where they tried to TEST THEIR HYPOTHISIS.

That is what science is...That is what scientists do...

"And science is AWESOME!"

:I'd resigned myself to being the only righty who thought this, However Moe Lane expresses similar sentiments rather more pithily. He also cuts to the heart of the matter. is remarkably embarrassing, which is why the NYT is so aggravated about the whole thing.  To the point where they’re retroactively trying to throw the expedition under the icebreaker.  As if it’s the Spirit of Mawson’s fault that the ice is still there…

Oh no WAY.

* I've not found a primary source  on this point.
Animated .gifs are from Nichijou, which is unrelated to this matter. It is also (like science) awesome & should bring a smile to the face of anyone regardless of political preferences.

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December 29, 2013

Cruise Ship Trapped in Pack Ice

A Russian research/cruise ship Akademik Shokalskiy. has been overwhelmed by a summer blizzard off Antarctica and has become trapped in thickening ice. The Chinese icebreaker  Xue Long, unable to deal with the thickness of ice around the ship has retreated to open water leaving the cruise ship's only hope the Australian icebreaker Aurora Austrialis which is moving to assist. .

Akademik Shokalskiy stuck fast. Pic via USA Today

UPDATE: It looks like Aurora Australis is also being forced off by the abominable conditions.
This is getting serious.
Two top of the line icebreakers have found conditions too dangerous to proceed. The weather has deteriorated to the point that helicopter rescue is currently unsafe. If the ice is really over 4 meters thick, the cruise ship (which draws 4.5m) is not really floating any more. There is the very real possibility that the ship might be crushed. Complicating matters is the fact that the 'expedition' is a political stunt and PR is everything for the expedition leaders. Reports from the Akademik Shokalski indicate that those being interviewed are in denial of the gravity of their situation.The optics of this incident as well as the political and financial implications for the members of the voyage, may well be influencing them to deny the inevitable until lives are at risk.
Irony is a dish best served cold.

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December 27, 2013

Just South of Europa, it Gets Kind of Humid

One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes seems a bit excited about a recent discovery by NASA.

"It's just a water vapor cloud..BUT IT'S IN SPAAACE!!!"

While examining an aurora near Europa's  south pole, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered that it is associated with a faint cloud of water vapor, presumably venting from cryo-volcanoes on Europa that have plumes 201 kilometers high.

It seems likely that the 'cloud' deposits snow on Europa's south pole. NASA scientists take the plumes as further evidence that Europa is home to a vast subterranean ocean.

via NBF

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