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Dear readers,

I’ve come to the hard decision that it’s time to put Steve Cross Loves Music and Science to rest. Don’t worry, I still love music and science! I just don’t have time to blog about it anymore. The natural progression of life, relationships, commitments, etc… has forced me to re-organize priorities. That’s not a bad thing, it just means that blogging has to take a backseat to more important things. So, this is the end of this blog! I’ll keep the domain for the foreseeable future, and everything will remain archived as-is. Everything has a a life cycle, and this blog has reached the end.

This is not the end of me sharing this type of content on the internet, however! I do intend to share more science articles, links, tidbits, etc… on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, so follow me there. This will allow me to still share my interests and love of music & science with whomever is willing to listen. I’m also on Instagram, so follow me there for more visual content.

I also have other blog ideas that I’ve been milling around for a while, but I’m keeping that under wraps until I officially decide what I’m doing. If and when that comes to fruition, it will be made public via my Twitter and Facebook.

Whether you’ve just started following me or have been for many years, I hope you learned something, gained something, or otherwise benefited from this blog!

Peace out.

-Steve

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Credit: NASA

First of all, I must make the point that these solar flares and coronal mass ejections we’re talking about will NOT harm us. At most, these can cause disruptions with satellite communications, but nothing more. On Sunday the sun belched forth an M-class (medium) solar flare with earth in the crosshairs. The stream of charged particles from the eruption is expected to reach earth sometime late tonight, and could create auroral displays visible as far south as the great lakes area. The sun is capable of flares much more powerful, that would create auroras visible all the way down here in TN, but they’re rare. I do expect there to be one or two of that magnitude in the next few years, however, as the sun is climbing toward its next period of maximum sunspot activity, known as solar maximum. It is possible that tonight’s flare could be more powerful than expected, and the resulting aurorae visible this far south, but it’s highly unlikely. If you’re in Canada or the northern US, however, I recommend going outside and looking north tonight. You just might get a treat. (Via space.com and spaceweather.com)

UPDATE: Apparently this same sunspot region produced another, more powerful flare last night. This time it was an X-class flare, though still not powerful enough to cause aurorae visible this far south. (Via Bad Astronomy)

Obama’s proposed budget for 2012 is basically in direct opposition to the Republicans’ ideas. The biggest area of contention will no doubt be science and education spending. Obama wants to boost funding for most everything science-related, which I applaud of course. But of course, Republicans want to make huge cuts in most everything science-related. It’s incredibly sad that most Republicans these days take such anti-science, anti-reality stances on issues. These proposed budgets are simply the beginnings of what will likely be a long, knock-down drag-out battle between the White House and Congress, and I hope there can be some concessions that will allow us to continue to grow in the areas of education and technology without vastly increasing the national debt. Granted, even a modest cut in the defense budget would probably take care of all these problems, but will that ever happen? Hell no. (Via NewScientist) Also, check out this nice infographic created by LiveScience.

I’m not going to attempt to rundown all the party possibilities for tonight in Nashville. Just head over to the Nashville Cream and check out their NYE flow chart. There’s really nothing better for determining your course of action for tonight. Whatever you do, be safe and if you plan on drinking, arrange for a DD or a cab or Zingo or SOMETHING.

Instead of creating or linking to any “best of” lists about 2010, I thought I’d round up a couple of articles about what to expect in the science world in 2011.

Discovery News: The Biggest, Boldest, and Baddest Space Missions of 2011

Live Science: The Top Science Breakthroughs That 2011 May Bring

That’s it. I’m out. See you in 2011.

It’s been a while since I got on my soapbox of how the 2012 Mayan calendar doomsday myth is, well… a myth. Let me begin by saying that there is no reason to believe that anything exceptional will happen when the Mayan long count calendar ends. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either totally full of shit, or is very gullible to fluff and hype (generated by the former). The descendants of the Mayans themselves have even said that the doomsday myth is bullshit. So, this thing is already completely blown out of the water by real science and reason, but just in case you needed another reason not to believe the doomsday hype, now the actual date of the end of the long count calendar is in question. The methods used to convert the Mayan calendar into our own Gregorian years has been shown to be unreliable, and this could throw off the date conversion by as much as 50 to 100 years. So in reality, the Mayan calendar might have already ended (and thus simply started over again)! I’ll keep an eye out for any updates and clarifications to this story, but let’s face it- the Mayan calendar doomsday hype is nothing more than fear-mongering and utter ignorance. (Via LiveScience)

Image via Wikipedia

I know I link to this blog all the time, but the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog continually showcases some of the most amazing imagery you’ll find anywhere, and what’s best about it is the content. This particular series involves the National Ignition Facility in California. This massive experiment could literally solve all the world’s energy problems. What they’re attempting to do here is essentially create a miniature star right here on earth. Just recently they completed a successful test in which they fired 192 lasers simultaneously into one tiny frozen target capsule containing deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen). The ultimate goal is to create a nuclear fusion reaction- the same process taking place in the center of our Sun. As you can easily deduce, this would release enormous amounts of energy that is completely clean- the only by-product is helium, which is the element formed when hydrogen atoms fuse. The only hurdle is that it already requires a massive amount of energy to power the lasers that start the reaction in the first place, so the reactor must produce significantly more energy than it consumes in order to truly be a viable solution to the energy crisis. Another issue could be safety. With a reaction as powerful as nuclear fusion, things can get dangerous very quickly. Thankfully though, if an explosion were to occur, it wouldn’t involve the radioactive fallout danger associated with current nuclear reactors which use a different process- nuclear fission. (AKA the reaction used in the atomic bomb.) Click here to learn more about the NIF.

Energy and space science rant

September 2, 2010

Rant time.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, there was ANOTHER FUCKING OIL RIG EXPLOSION IN THE GULF. Which is why I’m going to now rant about how terrible fossil fuels are. There is nothing good about them as an energy source. They are filthy/pollute the environment, they’re inefficient, and most importantly they are FINITE. We will run out of them. Thankfully this particular explosion doesn’t seem as though it will cause more oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, but they aren’t sure yet. I firmly believe that every nation and every energy company in the world should be focusing 100% of their efforts on ways to eliminate the use of fossil fuels as an energy source as FAST AS POSSIBLE. As long as the world is still relying on them, we are speeding straight down a highway that ends with world wars the likes of which have never been seen, and possibly the end of the human race. Our use of fossil fuels will either lead to so much pollution that the entire ecosystem will collapse, or they will become so scarce that the entire world will go to war fighting over them. The very survival of our species could rely on finding a way to 100% renewable energy. Whether it be from the sun, the wind, the ocean, whatever… 100% renewable and clean energy as soon as possible MUST be the absolute goal, and we must stop at nothing to get there. There are lots of other uses for oil than energy, and dare I say those are probably a necessary evil, at least for a while- virtually all plastic is made from it, along with a host of other things, but those pale in comparison to how much is used for energy. I have no doubt technology will get to a point where we don’t need oil for manufacturing either, but energy should be our #1 priority.

Now for my space rant:

A group of spaceflight’s elite sent a letter to Congress yesterday urging the House Science & Technology Committee to revamp its NASA authorization bill. The group, composed of former astronauts, space industry veterans, and former NASA officials, are asking Congress to make their version of the bill look more like the Senate version, which is much closer to Obama’s initial budget recommendation which was announced in February. Unfortunately middle TN’s own Bart Gordon is the head of said committee. Yo Bart- I expect more from you than this. Look at the facts- Obama is right! I’ve said this many times on here before and I’ll say it again: NASA needs to focus its efforts on exploration beyond low-earth orbit and the moon. The private spaceflight industry is more than capable of taking over the job of getting our astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and can be capable much sooner than NASA could using its currently-under-development Constellation Program. But they need the help of NASA in the form of $$$. Less $$$, mind you, than we would spend on Constellation. We will never see the kind of innovation and progress again that we saw from NASA in the 1960’s unless their goals are ambitious and lofty. Putting a man on an asteroid and eventually on Mars should be the new main goal of NASA’s manned spaceflight program, and exploring the moons of Jupiter and Saturn should be the main goal of the unmanned (robotic probe) programs. Those are the kind of ambitious goals that will bring back the kind of innovation and tenacity of the 1960’s. Only this time it will be scientifically driven, not driven by a race to get to the moon before the Russians.

Rant: over.

Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano has had all the attention lately, but a much bigger and meaner eruption might be around the corner from its cousin, Katla. This beast almost always erupts around the same time as Eyjafjallajokull, and geologists don’t expect this eruption to be any different. Katla is actually connected to Eyjafjallajokull underground via a common magma chamber, thus the connected eruptions. The main concern is that the ash plume will be even bigger than Eyjafjallajokull’s and will cause even more air travel problems. Another major concern is the fact that Katla is underneath a huge glacier. When 2,000 degree lava comes into contact with that much ice, you’re bound to have major flooding, and history has shown that indeed Katla’s eruptions have caused flooding problems for Icelanders. In fact, I’d say the only thing Katla has on Eyjafjallajokull is that its name is hella shorter and easier to pronounce/spell. (Via Daily Galaxy)

I’m sure you’ve already seen plenty of Iceland volcano photos since it’s been so prevalent in the news lately, but I must share this link: Live Science has a really nice gallery of volcanic lightning images that are simply breathtaking. All of them are of the recent Eyjafjallajokull eruption.

The US Military is not generally known for being environmentally-friendly… let’s face it, they blow up things, destroying not only buildings but also the land, not to mention releasing tons of toxic smoke and gases from the explosives. However, the Navy is trying to at least make a dent in their carbon footprint by adopting renewable fuels for their fighter jets, and eventually all other fuel-consuming vehicles/ships/aircraft as well. They’re about to test a new Camelina-based biofuel for the first time in an F/A 18 Hornet fighter. These are the same types of jets flown by the famous aerobatics demo team the Blue Angels. It’s pleasantly surprising to see the military taking such important steps in the right direction. (Via EcoGeek/National Geographic)

In other news- I now have more homebrew for your drinking pleasure, if interested. It’s a hefeweizen from an ingredient kit. I plan for this this be my last kit brew. I feel confident enough now to start using/tweaking online recipes, buying the ingredients separately and creating some brews that can be truly called “my own creations.” I’m actually about to start on a Belgian blonde ale. This hefeweizen, though, is just a simple straight-up wheat beer. It’s not a Belgian style (no orange peels or corriander) so it won’t taste like Blue Moon, and it doesn’t use any funky yeast strains or spicing to produce fruity flavors (such as Yazoo’s hefe, which has a distinct banana nose to it). It’s actually a very middle-of-the-road, normal-tasting wheat beer. If you want any, you know how to get in touch with me.

It’s been a minute since I mentioned the NASA budget/direction controversy, so here’s a bit of an update:

Lots of NASA employees and contractors in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral have launched a campaign against Obama’s budget cuts/change of direction for NASA. They are doing this because when the shuttle program winds down later this year, and the Constellation program gets ousted altogether, there won’t be nearly as many jobs in the area. That’s a legitimate concern, but in the big picture, I say it’s a necessary evil. Besides, these people are engineers, scientists, etc… they are all very smart and quite capable of finding work in other areas, maybe even for the private companies like SpaceX that will take over the duties of getting cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. I am all for Obama’s plan, because it pushes NASA to look ahead into exploring the rest of our solar system. That’s where the REAL science/discoveries happen. In reality the space shuttle is a dinosaur- it’s expensive to maintain, and it’s not safe. It has no bailout system whatsoever, so if something goes wrong (see: Challenger and Columbia), the astronauts inside are screwed. It is most definitely an impressive piece of engineering, but it’s time to move on. NASA can NOT continue spinning its wheels, never getting us past the ISS and/or low Earth orbit. NASA needs to focus its efforts/money on projects like the VASIMR plasma rocket engine, which could cut a spacecraft’s trip to Mars from 6 months to roughly 40 days. The new commercial spaceflight companies will be more than capable of handling NASA’s cargo and low Earth orbit needs much sooner than NASA could on its own via the Constellation program. End of rant.

In some happier science news, Google is developing a new thermal mirror energy system that could cut the cost of electricity to 5 cents per kWh. This would make solar thermal energy much cheaper than coal. These stations are made up of a huge array of mirrors arranged so that they create one gigantic parabolic mirror. The parabolic shape reflects all the sunlight into one point, at which a heat-collecting device is mounted (on top of a tower), which in turn heats water into steam that runs a turbine to generate power. Naturally this system is only good for areas which receive a lot of sunlight such as deserts, but if Google can make them cheap to build, they could play a big part in getting the world weened off of fossil fuels for energy production. As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be fiddling with ways to cleanup our use of fossil fuels, we should be focusing eliminating our dependence on them altogether. (Via EcoGeek)

Finally, the earthquake that rocked Chile over the weekend may have actually shortened the length of a day. Granted the current estimate is that our day was shortened by only 1.26 milliseconds, but that’s still pretty amazing. Not only did the day shorten, but the figure axis was also offset by about 3 inches. Think of how big this planet is… that earthquake had to release an unfathomable amount of energy to actually alter its axis! (Via Space.com)

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