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Showing posts from November, 2007

When will we see DSCOVR again?

It's sometimes terrifying, in this age of information, to realize how much we don't know. A satellite built by NASA that could answer the major questions we have about global warming, and settle disputes over the reality of man-made climate change, is gathering dust in a Maryland warehouse. The importance of the information it might have provided cannot be understated. The satellite is built and paid for, and was scheduled for launch two years ago, but for undisclosed though not unsought reasons, NASA and the federal government have kept the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite (DSCOVR) locked away, and with it the American public's right to an answer. It’s a slap in the face to every American citizen that the Executive Branch has denied that it should be held accountable under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose documents concerning why the DSCOVR satellite was retired before it’s first launch. NASA itself also opted to withhold all internal documents (ag

Something to get you through the day...

I decided to do a search of all the books titled "The Physics of _______". Everything is physics, but many books give it to ya straight in specific cases. With over 300 hits, here is a list of my favorites: The Physics of Superheroes, Consciousness, Christianity, Everyday Life, Everyday Phenomena, Christmas, Insultingly Stupid Movies, Medical Imaging, Golf, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Sailing, Dancing, Skiing, Sports, Radiology, The Body, Electric Propulsion, Angels, Music, Irrigated and Nonirrigated soils, Musical Instruments, Shock Waves and High-Temperature Hydrodynamic Phenomena, Foams, Immortality, Interstellar Dust, William of Ockham, Quasicrystals, Liquid Crystals, Coronary Blood Flow, Cerebrovascular diseases, Diamond, Galactic Halos, Laser Plasma Interactions, Three-Dimensional Radiation Therapy, The Non Physical, Agriculture, Time Asymmetry, Time Reversal, Laser Fusion, The Earth’s Core, Blown Sand and Desert Dunes, Glaciers, Ice, Monsoons, Heaven and Earth, Exp

It’s Physics, My Dear Watson. -- OR -- Pyramids, JFK, and Dinosaurs

Physics can be like a universal tool kit for solving mysteries. It doesn’t come with instructions, but if you figure out how to use it you’ll find that it comes equipped with everything you need to discover whether or not an ancient pyramid has hidden chambers, how to explain discrepancies in the JFK assassination footage, or find substantial evidence that a meteor impact killed the dinosaurs. And for those who don’t know how to use the tool kit, be sure you get a detective like Luis W. Alvarez. As reported by Phil Schewe in this week’s Physics News Update (, a paper by Charles G. Wohl, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Physics reflects admiringly on the career of a true physicist. Luis W. Alvarez won a Nobel prize in 1968 for his work in elementary particle physics, but his other work stands out for it’s application to classic mysteries. The Pyramid Burial Chambers : The two largest pyramids ever bui

That Sweet, Sweet Voltage: The Electric Addiction

Futurama has a fantastic episode titled “Hell is Other Robots,” in which the show’s main robot, Bender, turns to the seedier side of robot life and develops a heroin-like addiction to electricity. Bender has to get his fix from an outlet or battery; otherwise he gets shaky, nervous, and irritable. The episode pitches the idea that if robots were like humans, electricity would take the place of hard drugs. But an article in the Daily India suggests that electricity might be the vice of robots and humans alike. In the Indian district of Uttar Pradesh' Lalitpur, a village priest needs to have a small electrical stimulus before he can fall asleep each night. The priest gets his electricity from home appliances or live wires plugged into the wall. He sometimes leaves the wires in his mouth, under his arms, or behind his ears for the entire night. The article doesn’t say exactly how strong the stimuli is, or if the priest prefers a short jolt to a long tingle, but doctors in the

Fire from Salt Water: Lets Focus, People.

A man in Erie can make salt water burn! In a manner of speaking, yes. He’s freeing the hydrogen and it makes a flame but really it's just re-bonding with oxygen so it... You can run an engine with it! Well, yes, it's fire, which can do that, but you have to run the radio wave generator and... We have tons of salt water! We can use this instead of coal and oil! No. No no no no no no. No. Stop. No. Ow. Can I get an aspirin? “New Source of Energy in Salt Water” sounds so good you just want to believe it. Bless your little heart for having so much faith in these times of despair and no snow, but unfortunately a gallon of free gas isn’t worth anything if you use up two gallons getting to the station . Always ask questions. It’s where answers come from. Questions like, if radio waves + salt water = fire, why don't the oceans ignite from radar? Or, if our bodies are 70% water and some salt, why doesn't the radio wave generat

Stonehenge: Just add physics

Wally Wallington can move 2-ton cement blocks or barns over large distances by himself . No heavy machinery. No help. Just physics! He thinks he may have figured out how Stonehenge was built, and that it could have been done with very few people. This video shows not only some very basic physics principles in action, but illustrates that physics needs creativity and ingenuity to be put to work. This video is about 6 minutes long, but it’s worth a look. Full of lots of physics and really awesome feats! Read on to learn a little more about why Wally can move a barn with a 2x4. Getting it up on the pivot is something you’ll have to figure out from the video. The physics involved: center of mass and inertia; an object in motion tends to stay in motion; basic lever. This might be old hat if you’ve had basic physics classes, but I had to check my book to make sure I got the mechanics right. Balancing a Barn - Put a pivot under and object's center of gravity, and the object will

The Musical Tesla Coils

Will Tesla Coils make their way to Best Buy shelves this year? It's unlikely that they'll trump an iPod on sound quality, but you can’t beat the visuals. That singing highway was awesome (see the Nov. 13 entry), but I think it’s strongly challenged by today’s feature: The Musical Tesla Coils. Manipulation of Tesla coils to make noise has been done before, but this takes the cake. What you’re hearing is the theme from Super Mario Brothers, created by an output of plasma pushing on the air as it's frequency is changed. Also check out "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" and others: Sound waves are vibrations of the air around us, which you can make just by clapping your hands or talking. Pitch is just the number of times the air vibrates per second. Higher frequency, higher pitch. Tesla coils are a combination of circuits that output thousands to millions of volts. That high electric field arcs up

The Latest from the Extreme Sports Physicist

Ever wonder what makes snow so slippery ? Or what physics can say about the highest aerial ever recorded on a snowboard? Where do moguls come from anyway? And, what are the chances that someone could snowboard to safety in an avalanche ? Check out the latest posts on the Extreme Sports Physics blog to get the answers to some of the physics questions nagging at those of us in the Northern hemisphere as we get ready to hit the slopes and the ice this winter.

A Singing Highway

There used to be a stretch of road near my house that was haunted - at least that's what I would tell my passengers as I drove along it. As we approached a certain intersection, a creepy moan would fill the passenger compartment. It scared the daylights out of a few people, especially when I took them for rides at night while telling tales about ghostly hitchikers. The bit about ghosts, of course, was made up, but the moaning road was real. The road had become rippled with age, which made the tires play a haunting tone. It worked the same way that a record needle (remember LPs ) plays sounds as it rides over the bumps in the recording tracks. I often wondered why nobody ever bothered to take advantage of the effect by making roads that played sounds on purpose (perhaps as a type of advertising, or to alert drivers to speed limits and such). Well, someone HAS done it in Japan. They have a whole stretch of singing highway, clearly marked with musical notations to let you know you

Einstein's Hype

"In teaching history," he replied, "there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment." -Albert Einstein, from the New York Times Book Review Online There seems to be no end to the fame Albert Einstein achieved during his life and beyond. Not only are there already more books written about the guy than, I would bet, any other scientist ever, but the newest one (pictured here) made it to the top of the NY Times bestseller list! People still want to know more about the guy who's credited with revolutionizing an already difficult field of study, making it exciting for a general audience, and flashing the personality of a poet. Everyone in the western world knows what it means to be called an Einstein. With this much worship being spilled on the guy, I have to wonder if physicists studying his work today think Einstein deserves the praise he gets. Are his discoveries turning out t

TV and Physics don't quite get along

CBS just launched The Big Bang Theory, a new sitcom about two physics guys with no social skills and a hot “blond” girl with a cell phone. Putting aside reviews, TBBT makes me question whether or not TV has given scientists a bad rap. There tend to be three prominent stereotypes that follow physicists wherever they go, and TBBT embraces all of them (I will note that these apply far more to male physicists): physicists are socially inept (except with other physicists), they like people of the opposite sex but turn into goop around them , and they constantly speak in overly complicated jargon. But wait! Since George Clooney ’s reign on ER it’s clear that not all TV scientists are created equal. Doctors have not only beat the rap of nerds, but are triumphantly portrayed as abnormally attractive. And this isn't an isolated incident. Multiple shows have run off with the hot doctor idea despite the fact that there are physics concepts around every defibrillat

Fun with Fluids

This is so cool! What’s really neat about this demonstration is that there’s some fairly simple physics going on. Watch as a jet of oil falls into a rotating bath of the same oil, only to arc up and out. Believe it or not, it’s just a thin layer of air keeping the jet from losing its shape and combining with the bath. The elastic or trampoline-like properties of the bath bounce the air-cushioned jet back up above the surface, while the rotation of the bath keeps it from bouncing into itself. This was discovered by accident, which might make you wonder how much spare time physicists really have on their hands. The jet maintains its shape because of a thin layer of air caught between the fluid of the jet and the bath. It’s pretty common; you can see it in raindrops hitting a pond. The air is extremely sensitive to disruption so if you’re trying to do this at home you’ll need a very steady hand and some patience. When the jet falls down and pushes on the bath, t