Posts Tagged ‘earth’


February 17, 2011 1 comment

Photo Courtesy of NASA

Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.

The largest solar flare in 4 years erupted on Monday night. It is what as known as an X-class flare. As the name implies, it is a big-time event.

Solar flares are classified based upon the intensity of x-rays emitted between the wavelengths of 1 and 8 Angstroms. (An angstrom is 1 x 10-10 meters).

In order to be an X-class flare, the intensity of the flare must be greater than 10-4 Watts/m2. This flare is an X2 flare, meaning it has an intensity of about 2 x 10-4 Watts/m2.

The flare is sending waves of energetic particles at the Earth, which have already caused radio disruptions in China.

The main event will be coming Today, however. The bulk of the particles will be hitting the Earth’s magnetic field sometime today, possibly causing some intense Aurora’s.

So if you are outside at all this evening, take a quick look up and see if anything is happening. Regions closer to the equator which don’t normally see Aurora’s may just get lucky tonight.

(Bonus points to those who got the ‘Airplane!’ reference in the title of this post)

Update: Phil Plait uploaded a cool video of the flare. Check it out:

The Onion Hits the Nail on the Head

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Phil Plait posted this link on his blog, and I had to share it as well.

It so well articulates the current political climate in the United States that, despite the fact that an asteroid is not headed for Earth, it should get circulated like mainstream news stories.

The Onion: you are awesome!

“Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth”

My favourite quote from the article:

In an effort to counter Republicans’ claims, Democrats have asserted that the long-term benefits of preventing the United States from being incinerated by an explosion several billion times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb would far outweigh the initial monetary outlay.


NASA Announces Discovery of First Rocky Planet Outside Solar System

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The Kepler Spacecraft. Photo: NASA

It seems every couple weeks there is another story regarding exoplanets.

Oh well, they always seem exciting to me.

In a statement released today, NASA said

NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

The Kepler mission is designed specifically to search for exoplanets roughly the size of Earth. It does this through a technique called the Transit Method.

Essentially, Kepler will watch a star for several hours. If a planet orbits that star, it may pass in front of the star and briefly reduce the apparent brightness. By measuring how much dimmer the star gets, and how often it happens, it is possible to determine the size and orbit period of the planet.

While this is a pretty cool discovery, don’t get your hope up about habitable planets yet.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

December 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Credit & Copyright: Alain Riazuelo - Click Image for Large Version

Not to sound like a smart ass…but it would look like a big black hole.

This is a computer generated image by Alain Riazuelo and I saw it the other day as the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Aside from eating all the light hitting the black hole straight on, notice the “rings” around it as well. This is called gravitational lensing, and is something astronomers look for in order to identify a black hole, since the lensing is easily visible at a larger distance.

We Got Asteroid Dust!

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Phew. Gotta clean the dust off my computer. Why does moving have to take up so much time?

Well while I was lugging heavy boxes, there was stuff still going on in the world of science.

Perhaps the thing that got me most excited was that the spacecraft Hayabusa, which I have written about before, has succeeded in its mission!

Hayabusa Spacecraft. Image Credit: JAXA

Japanese researchers announced that the craft has acquired fragments of asteroid dust and returned them safely to Earth.

The craft was launched seven years ago, and in 2005 it landed on asteroid Itokawa. Despite some engine trouble, and the fact that the ball bearing it was supposed to shoot into the asteroid’s surface failed to fire, the craft still managed to collect some fragments of space dust.

Asteroid Itokawa. Courtesy of JAXA

Hayabusa returned to Earth in June of 2010, and we have been waiting anxiously for months to find out if the craft had actually gotten some asteroid bits back for us to study.

How do we know these particles are definitely from the asteroid? The official announcement states:

The mineral phases among the collected 1500 particles, their relative abundance ratios and their elemental compositions agree with a class of primitive meteorite, and they do NOT correspond to any rock type on the surface of the Earth.

This absolutely blows my mind! These guys were able to launch a spacecraft, land it on an asteroid, take off from the asteroid and return to Earth with pieces of it!

I think we all need to take a moment and think what it would be like to be working on this project from the start. Seven long years it took, with obstacles almost every step of the way, and now they find out that it was totally worth it. Kudos these researchers, who are no doubt still out partying in celebration.

A Young Earth Creationist Called Me a “Dim Wheel”…

October 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not even sure what that means, but I don’t imagine it is complimentary. It’s also the first openly hostile comment I’ve gotten on my blog, so I figured I’d share my thoughts on it.

The comment appeared on my post called: “Sorry Creationists, Radiometric Dating Still Works”. The post had to do with the recent stories in the news about neutrinos possibly affecting the decay rates of isotopes used in radiometric dating. The results are in still question, and even if true, would not drastically affect the dating of geological samples which have already been performed.

One person, who chose to remain anonymous, commented on the post. They said (all grammatical errors reproduced exactly): 

Guess what Dim Wheel, diamonds have measurable amounts of C-14. You Kind of sound like a scientist, but lets face it, your not.

Now, I don’t have a problem with comments that disagree with me, but name-calling is just childish. Am I a scientist? Well I have an M.Sc. in Physics, and I work in the technology sector analyzing data, writing code and working my way into the R&D department. But I think the commenter is saying that I don’t wear a lab coat or work at a University, so I suppose I am not a “scientist” by that definition. But ad hominem fallacies aside, lets deal with the diamond argument.

I had actually never heard this argument before, so I looked it up. Diamonds are old. Very, very old. So old in fact, that Carbon-14 should not be present at all in diamonds, it should have all decayed away millions of years ago. So Young Earthers use this argument as evidence that the earth is younger than scientists thought.

Here was my response to the comment:

Diamonds do actually contain Carbon-14. This has been in known for about 30 years now, and is easily explained.

Uranium decay in geological samples can actually trigger the generation of a Carbon-14 isotope in a sample of diamond. This phenomenon has been thoroughly studied and confirmed. Here are a couple references:

Excess carbon-14 abundances in uranium ores: Possible evidence for emission from uranium-series isotopes.
D. Barker, A. J. T. Jull, and D. J. Donahue. Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 12, Issue 10, p. 737-740 (1985)

14C in uranium and thorium minerals: a signature of cluster radioactivity? R. Bonetti et. al.
European Physical Journal A, Vol. 5, No. 2, 235-238 (1999)

If you have any other questions regarding this matter please don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be happy to answer them for you.

So the argument doesn’t hold water, but what gets me more is the hostility. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, and we skeptics have a reputation of being “dicks” sometimes as well. But it is totally counter-productive from either side of the argument to act like a jerk or commit the ad hominem fallacy.

So you can read the comment yourself, and let me know if you think my response was well-handled. I love scientific discussion, but I don’t like confrontation. Discussion makes you learn and question your own beliefs, whereas confrontation just causes you to dig in your heels and become more close-minded.

Can’t we all just get along?

‘Tis the Season…for Ozone Depletion

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Around this time each year in the Southern Hemisphere, the winter turns to spring. This brings with it warmer temperatures, but also the infamous ozone hole.

The direct sunlight which bombards the Antarctica region during the summer months causes chemical reactions to occur which destroy ozone molecules. Ozone, of course, is our natural protector against ultraviolet rays from the sun.

So the ozone “hole” isn’t really a hole, but more of an area of marked depletion of ozone.

NASA has been studying and quantifying the extent of ozone depletion in the area since 1979. The hole reached a maximum on 24 September 2006.

Ozone hole on 24 September 2006. Blue areas indicate areas of depleted ozone.

There is much more information on NASA’s Ozone Hole Watch website, so be sure to check it out. And always remember to reapply suncreen every 2 hours.