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On March 7 at just after midnight UTC, the Sun released a massive solar flare and coronal mass ejection towards earth. The CME hit us a few hours ago and from what I can tell the aurorae are ongoing from it. You can keep up with the progress at Spaceweather.com. I’m sure there will be some awesome photos from it in the coming days. This one was powerful enough to disrupt satellite communications, but nothing major has happened so far, that I know of. The main reason for this post, though, was to share this space porn HD video of the actual flare. Just wait till they show the zoomed-in shot. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. Oh, and be sure you set it to full HD!

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This is some scary shit.

We have some crazy weather headed our way in middle TN (see above graphic!) so A Few Good Shows is super quick today. GO:

FRIDAY:

Vitalic Noise presents CRAVE at TAVERN in midtown: I will be DJing along with resident DJs Losici and Dali Drama. FREE, 21+ 10pm

Chancellor Warhol, Sam & Tre, Gummy Soul, and Ducko McFli @ 12th & Porter. 9pm $10

Cheap Time, Leather Nightmare, King Karl, Psychic Hotline @ The Other Basement. 8pm $???

SATURDAY:

Dr. Dog w/ Purling Hiss and PUJOL @ War Memorial Auditorium. 8pm $20

Bass Drum of Death, Cy Barkley & the Way Outsiders, Thelma & The Sleaze @The End. 9pm $10

Scale Model, A Secret Policeman’s Ball, You Blew It!, and Direct Effect @ Springwater. 10pm $5

Have a great weekend and BE SAFE TODAY! PAY ATTENTION TO MEDIA OUTLETS AND STAY ON TOP OF THE SEVERE WEATHER!!!

 

Credit: NASA

As I’ve mentioned before, our Sun is steadily heading toward the peak of its next 11-year sunspot cycle. The peak is expected in 2013. That means we can expect a steady increase in aurorae as well, because sunspots lead to solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and when those happen to be aimed at earth, we get dazzling displays near the north and south poles. Sometimes those displays can even be seen as far south as Tennessee. Over the weekend there was a massive solar flare and CME, one that released the same amount of energy as millions of nuclear bombs, and it headed straight for earth. The blast of particles reached earth last night/this morning and created an astonishing auroral display, which was captured by many photographers at various locations. Here are a few blog posts and other links I’ve come across today showing some of those photos as well as explaining the physics of what actually causes the upper atmosphere to glow when bombarded by these particles.

Spectacular Aurorae Erupt Over Norway (Discovery News) Absolutely breathtaking photos by Bjørn Jørgensen.

Huge Solar Flare Seen By Solar Dynamics Observatory (Space.com)

The Sun Aims a Storm Right at Earth! (Bad Astronomy) Good explanation of the science behind the aurorae.

Can Solar Flares Hurt Astronauts? (Universe Today) Good explanation of why the flare/CME poses little risk to astronauts onboard the ISS.

  • Good design can be defined different ways, but it almost always means organizing and presenting information in an engaging and/or innovative manner. The Weather Wheel created by Bard Edlund is an outstanding example of this, and I dare you to not stare at it for at least 10 minutes. (Hint: the size of the blue dots changes to represent how much rain the given city recieves, the orange circle’s intensity represents temperature, and the speed at which the arrow passes by the city represents how much wind it gets.) Via Kottke.org
  • Cinemagraphs are photographs in which one small part of the image is animated to create continuous motion. This new technique creates surreal and sometimes slightly creepy images the blur the line between video and still photography. The technique is being pioneered by photographers Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. Fascinating.

 

It may take many more days before NWS survey teams can finish their assessment of the damage from the April 27th tornado outbreak, but being the weather nerd that I am, I want to go ahead and share a collection of links where you can find preliminary reports on the tracks and intensities of some of the many twisters that touched down. Note that there is at least one EF-5 (the highest intensity with winds over 200 mph) tornado confirmed, and there could be more upgraded to that status as more damaged is inspected. NWS Memphis survey– covering parts of northern Mississippi. NWS Jackson, MS survey. NWS Hunstville, AL survey. NWS Morristown, TN survey. And finally, this graphic from the NWS Birmingham, AL survey. The most complete graphic I’ve seen:

So that’s the bad. Please make a donation to the American Red Cross or any other legitimate organization providing relief for those devastated by this natural disaster. Now for some good things to lighten the mood.

I will call the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination good, but I certainly will never rejoice the death of any human being. While I am relieved somewhat, and do feel that justice has been done, I’m quite certain that the assassination itself as well as the celebrations will only give the rest of al-Qaeda even more reason to attack the US and its allies.

In even better and much much much lighter news, Moustache May has begun its final year of activity. I participated back in 2008 and am doing so again this year. Due to some very important meetings happening last week at my work, I was unable to start my stache until Friday, so I’m basically starting with a clean slate. Right now I look utterly creepy but hopefully we’ll get past that stage very soon as it fills in.

I came across this absolutely amazing new music video for the Supermen Lovers’ track “Take A Chance” and decided that it was the best thing to end this post with. Enjoy. (Via Too Many Sebastians)

So I’m thinking that some Fridays I’m gonna steal NPR’s “Science Friday” idea and write a post debunking some popular myths. Not gonna happen every Friday, but I’m gonna make a pointed effort to do it somewhat often.

Today we’ll tackle the myth about water spinning in opposite directions down the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. This is simply not true at all. While large-scale weather systems do indeed follow this pattern due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, water going down a drain does not. Minute things such as imperfections in the angle at which a basin was installed, inconsistencies in the surface or shape of the basin, and any residual motion in the water itself are what determine the direction the water rotates when drained. Once the water begins to drain, the conservation of angular momentum takes over and any hint of rotational motion in the water, whether clockwise or counter-clockwise, gets amplified as it moves toward the drain, creating a vortex. This is the same law of physics that causes tornadoes and dust devils to behave the way they do. The classic explanation for this concept is the spinning ice skater. As he/she moves her limbs closer to their body the conservation of angular momentum forces their rotational speed to increase. They can then move their limbs further away and they will slow down again. So no, no matter what you’ve heard, water does NOT always drain counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. That being said, experiments have been done that show the Coriolis Effect can be seen in draining water IF AND ONLY IF all other forces are completely removed. A large and absolutely perfect cylinder-shaped container with one very small hole exactly in the center was filled with water and allowed to sit untouched for 24 hours to allow any residual motion in the water to die out. The container was perfectly balanced with extreme precision. The plug in the hole was then carefully removed and the water did eventually start rotating counter-clockwise, and continued to do so when the experiment was repeated. BUT clearly this only happens in extremely controlled conditions. In your sink or toilet, a myriad of other forces are orders of magnitude stronger and completely overwhelm the minute effect of the Earth’s rotation. Snopes has a decent debunking of this myth as well.

Tornadoes are different. I was asked about this yesterday, in the wake of the massive tornado outbreak on Wednesday. The Coriolis Effect does influence the direction tornadoes spin, but in a more indirect way. There have, in fact, been clockwise (anticyclonic) tornadoes documented in many cases in the U.S. There have even been a few storms that dropped multiple tornadoes, both cyclonic and anticyclonic, at the SAME TIME. As I said earlier, the Coriolis Effect is what causes large-scale weather systems such as hurricanes, low pressure systems, and high pressure systems to rotate the way they do. Low pressure systems and hurricanes always rotate counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern. The opposite is true for high pressure (clear weather) systems. The storms which produces tornadoes are always associated with a large-scale low pressure system. The Coriolis Effect determines the rotation of that large-scale system, which in turn has an indirect influence on the structure of the supercell thunderstorms which spawn tornadoes. Tornadoes are far, far more common in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and because the warm moist air which “feeds” these storms at the surface is moving in from the southeast, and the cooler, drier air aloft is moving in from the northwest, that setup naturally lends itself to counter-clockwise rotation, hence most but not all tornadoes in the U.S. spin counter-clockwise. This illustration from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory shows the inner workings of a tornadic storm quite well:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Education has a website called NEWTON, with a forum of sorts called “ask a scientist.” This very question regarding the rotation of tornadoes was asked, and I found this particular response quite helpful:

At least the great majority of tornadoes rotate counterclockwise (as do all low-pressure systems) in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern hemisphere, for the reason (coriolis force) given by Eric Peterson in response #1. But occasionally, it would seem, northern hemisphere tornadoes do rotate clockwise: S. Flora’s book “Tornadoes of the United States” cites an 1890 article in the American Meteorological Journal. Its author, a J.P. Finley, states that, of 550 American tornadoes he studied, 29 were deemed to have rotated clockwise. I have not been able to find any “modern” study of this question. But I believe it could be true. The region of swirling air that contracts to become the tornado is not itself large enough in extent to have its rotation dictated by the coriolis force; rather, it “inherits” this tendency from the great masses of air whose movement sets the stage for the storms and any associated tornadoes. If the study cited is correct and representative, on occasion the direction of rotation is set by some other factor, perhaps the topography in the area where the tornado forms, for example.

So there you have it. I won’t have as much time every week to write up a post this in-depth, so don’t expect this every Friday, but I’ll do my best.

First of all if you haven’t donated to the Red Cross relief efforts in Japan, do it RIGHT NOW by texting “RED CROSS” to 90999. It’s only $10 and I don’t care how fucking broke you are, you can afford to give $10 to help people who have it WAY WORSE. And all you have to do is send a couple texts. They take it out of your phone bill.

There has been a lot of speculation about this quake being caused by the “supermoon.” That is absolute bullshit. Click those words for three different stories from very reliable and respected sources for detailed explanations as to why the moon didn’t cause this quake. In short- the moon’s orbit is elliptical, so it’s distance from earth varies over a 2-week period. When it’s closest we call it perigee, and when it’s farthest it’s called apogee. When the full moon happens to coincide with perigee, we call it a supermoon, because this full moon will appear just a tiny bit bigger than the rest because the moon is at it’s closest.  The phase of the moon (how much of it is lit by the sun) cannot have any effect on earth whatsoever beyond the fact that a clear, full moon-lit night will be a little brighter than a clear, new moon-lit (unlit) night. What does have some effect on earth is the moon’s gravity (which causes tides), which is understandably just tiny bit stronger at perigee. If those tiny fluctuations in the moon’s gravitational tug had any effect on earthquakes we would see it every TWO WEEKS because that’s how often the moon goes from perigee to apogee! Again, for more info click those links above.

One thing that is based on scientific fact is that the quake altered the length of one day, and shifted the Earth’s figure axis. The changes are so minute that they are completely insignificant, but interesting nonetheless. According to computer models, Earth’s day is about 1.8 microseconds (millionths of a second) shorter and the Earth’s figure axis moved by about 6.5 inches (17 centimeters). These changes are tiny compared to normal fluctuations of the both of these measurements over a year’s time, however. Both the length of a day and the position of the Earth’s figure axis fluctuate yearly by a margin greater than the amount the earthquake changed them. So, this is nothing to worry about, but it’s still amazing. (Via Universe Today)

I must also point out that Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog, as always, has an amazing collection of stunning photos from the aftermath. Definitely a must-see.

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