Monday, July 31, 2006

Feel Insignificant Yet?



Our Solar System to scale

Our Solar System to scale

Our Solar System to scale

Our Sun to scale

Our Sun to scale

Pale Blue Dot

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

- Reflections on a Mote of Dust - Carl Sagan

For those interested in astronomy, there are tons of sites out there where you can quench your thirst for knowledge. Among my favorites are NASA's Solar System Exploration, Nine Planets, NASA's World Book page and NASA's Visible Earth.

I've always had an interest in astronomy, but it took accompanying my son on a field trip to the BREC Highland Road Obervatory to spark it up again!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why is Louisiana Sinking?

Louisiana Coast

Louisiana Swamp

Louisiana's Sinking Coast

Louisiana Coastal Map

While there is no doubt southern Louisiana is sinking, experts disagree on the extent, speed and primary cause of its slow drop into the sea.

Two recent scientific studies point to two very different causes and rates of subsidence. Scientists fear the apparent contradiction might send a confusing message to policy makers, who are under pressure to make decisions now about the future of New Orleans and other coastal areas.

A study in the August issue the journal Geology blames the gradual compaction of river sediments, using radiocarbon-dated peat sediments deposited as far back as 8,000 years ago as evidence.

Because the peat was left behind by sea-level marshes, the sediments show past changes in sea level over time.

"Our conclusion is, of course, that the land surface is subsiding," said Törnqvist.

Törnqvist detected, on average, a loss of a tenth of a millimeter per year from the compaction of sediments.

That comes to just a tenth of a meter drop per 1,000 years. That rate of subsidence is in stark contrast to the rate — up to 170 times greater — reported in another recent study limited to the past 50 years.

"The problem with using the peat layers is that they are time-averaged," said geologist Roy Dokka of Louisiana State University. In other words, the peat can’t show changes over shorter periods, like 50 years.

Dokka led a team that recently completed a rigorous survey of data from same region and found evidence of almost 17 millimeters per year of subsidence in some places.

These are changes affecting the region now, he stressed. Dokka and his team published their results in the April issue of Geology.

Dokka has identified what looks like a gigantic landslide feature giving way in metropolitan New Orleans and slumping far out in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s something entirely beyond human control -- unlike soil compaction, which can be exacerbated by oil, gas and water extraction, and levee building.

Check out the article at Discovery News.

The last 100+ years of levee building and channel cutting have eliminated the sediment deposits and enabled saltwater to intrude upon inland marshes. Consequently, we humans have created our own sinkhole.

We need to re-engineer the coast in an attempt to counteract these man-made problems, if it's not too late.

I'm not sure if there's much we can do to fight it at this point. Nature is a powerful force, maybe we should just move to higher ground.

Check out Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project.

Monday, July 24, 2006

NASA's CloudSat Mission

Revealing the inner secrets of clouds!
NASA CloudSat

Rainbow Clouds

Noctilucent Clouds

Cumulous Clouds
Cumulous Storm Clouds - photo by Renegade

In early 2006, NASA launched the CloudSat and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft to study the role that clouds and aerosols play in regulating Earth's weather, climate and air quality.

Scientists are improving their understanding of Earth's climate system, but many questions remain. Weather and climate models, the prediction tools scientists use to study the Earth system, are complicated, and the information scientists use to build the models is incomplete. CloudSat and CALIPSO will collect information about the vertical structure of clouds and aerosols unavailable from other Earth observing satellites. Their data will improve our models and provide a better understanding of the human impact on the atmosphere. Policy makers and business leaders will make more informed long-term environmental decisions about public health, the economy and better day-to-day weather predictions as a result of these missions.

For the first time from Earth orbit, CloudSat and CALIPSO will:
- Provide statistics on the vertical structure of clouds around the globe (both missions)
- Provide statistics on the geographic and vertical distribution of aerosols around the globe (CALIPSO)
- Provide estimates of the percentage of Earth's clouds that produce rain (CloudSat)
- Detect subvisible clouds in the upper troposphere and Polar Stratospheric Clouds (CALIPSO)
- Provide vertically-resolved estimates of how much water and ice are in Earth's clouds (CloudSat)
- Detect snowfall from space (CloudSat)
- Estimate how efficiently the atmosphere produces rain from condensates (CloudSat)
- Provide an indirect estimate of how much clouds and aerosols contribute to atmospheric warming (both missions)

Check out the article at NASA's Homepage.

Check out the CloudSat Animation

Some excellent images are coming back from these satellites! Just imagine how much extraordinary data they will provide!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New Orleans: Not Quite Stormproof

New Orleans Flood Graphic

Inside a sprawling warehouse on the outskirts of Vicksburg, Mississippi, a 15,000-square-foot model of New Orleans is getting very, very wet. Since February, researchers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been re-creating Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in miniature. Their goal has been to emulate the size and speed of the storm’s waves to understand why the levees crumbled and how to fortify them against future storms.

One startling finding, revealed in a 6,000-page tome released in June, is that nearly two thirds of the flooding could have been prevented had the Corps simply fortified the weak soil conditions that ultimately caused the levees to collapse. Since then, the Corps has installed “T-walls” around the levees that will bolster them against smaller storms, yet its long-term defense plan for Katrina-style nightmares, illustrated here, could be at least another decade, and potentially billions of dollars, away from completion.

Check out the article at Popular Science.

Check out the animated movie illustrating New Orleans's latest stormproofing strategy.

That's a lot of money to spend on one city...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Tank + Motorcycle =

Deep mud, sand and snow are no match for this go-anywhere mutated motorbike!

You may not have room in your garage (or budget) for a dirt bike and a snowmobile and a four-wheeler. But what if one vehicle could take the place of all three? That’s the idea behind the Hyanide, a wild concept vehicle created by German designers Oliver Keller and Tillman Schlootz for the 2006 Michelin Challenge Design. This year’s competition showcased vehicles made especially for California’s diverse and often rugged topography.

Named for its supposed resemblance to a crouching hyena, the Hyanide is designed to run on a flexible rubber tread that spans the machine’s entire underside. So if any part of the bottom is touching the ground, the Hyanide should be able to move, no matter how deep the quagmire, no matter how rough the terrain. The tank-like tread consists of 77 identical segments—each made from hard plastic covered with tire rubber —held together by Kevlar rope. Each segment flexes independently, making the tread significantly more limber than if its components were rigid. Not only does this setup help with traction, but it would allow the tank-cum-motorcycle to corner like no other vehicle!

Check out the article at Popular Science.

How could that replace a 4-wheeler? I don't see any place to put the deer!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Eye-Popping Images!

Lost In Space

Apache Longbow Missile Defense System
Apache Longbow Missile Defense System

Glacial Melting
Evidence of melting at Glacier National Park

Robot Fish

Each month, PopSci brings you incredible images, from deep space to deep inside the human body. View a collection of our favorites in this exclusive photo gallery.

Check out the slideshow at Popular Science.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July!

Fourth of July over the Statue of Liberty

Fourth of July over the Louisiana State Capitol

July 4, 1776 - Declaration of Independence

Washington crosses the Delaware

Boston Tea Party

American Revolution Naval Battle

Independence Day is more than a chance for family and friends throughout the country to gather for barbecues and fireworks displays, it is an annual celebration to commemorate the courage and faith of our founding fathers in their pursuit of liberty.

Uncover the history behind America’s birthday and the sacrifices made by the extraordinary leaders who, at great personal risk, struggled to unite a young nation. Read the Declaration of Independence that laid down the foundation for the U.S. Constitution, endorsing the fundamental principles of freedom we still uphold to this day.

Check out the article at The History Channel.

I've been watching the series American Revolution on The History Channel. It usually comes on Sundays at 9pm Central, but it will also be on tonight at 11. It's definitely worth watching!