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)

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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.

Before I talk about the nerdy television shows which will be on tonight, I must mention that Nashville rockers Heartbeater released their debut album Slow Waves yesterday. I totally forgot to mention it. Hell I’ve only heard a couple of the songs, but I know it’s an awesome record because I’ve seen them live many times, and they are just that good. The main strongpoint is the amazing chemistry between the two guitar players whose parts are almost always playing off each other and harmonizing. Check them out at heartbeater.net or their label’s bandcamp.

Now for some serious nerding-out.

  • Obama finally got a clue and is having solar panels installed on the White House. It’s about fucking time!
  • Tonight is the season premier of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. The myths their testing tonight both involve dogs, so this will surely be an adorable episode.
  • Of course, directly following Mythbusters will be the 2nd episode of Phil Plait’s Bad Universe. This time he will be studying the realities of alien attacks and the overall existence of extraterrestrials, as well as the grim realities of interstellar travel. Two of my favorite things back to back=me having a nerd-out. Here’s a sneak peak at tonight’s episode:

It is imperative for the future of NASA that you IMMEDIATELY call your congressman’s Washington office and ask they vote YES on S. 3729- NASA Authorization Act of 2010! If you’re in Nashville then your congressman is Jim Cooper and his # is 202-225-4311. The bill is up for a vote TODAY and the session ends this Friday, so if they don’t pass the bill now, NASA will have NO BUDGET for the next fiscal year, which also starts Friday. Phil Plait explains quite well on his blog why you should do this, but honestly, time is of the essence, please take my word for it: it is IMPERATIVE that this bill get passed! If you’re not in Nashville and read this in time, use this link to find you representative and CALL HIM/HER NOW.

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.

If you live in TN, or even the southeast at all, you know damn well that it’s been hot and humid as hell lately. The entire southeast has been a sauna for several weeks in a row. You always hear people say stuff like, “man, it’s 90 degrees and 90% humidity out there!” Anyone with half a brain knows that’s a VAST exaggeration, but honestly the concept of humidity is a rather confusing one, and even some meteorologists don’t explain it very well. I’m not going to attempt to fully explain it because it’s already been done quite well at this Cincinnati meteorologist’s website. Please click through that link if you want a very detailed, but still in layman’s terms, explanation. Read on if you want my extremely condensed version.

Basically, in terms of actually knowing how much water vapor is in the air, relative humidity sucks. In order to really know how humid it is, and how uncomfortable you will be, look at the dew point. The dew point is simply the temperature at which the water vapor in the air will begin to condense. The higher the dew point, the more H2O is in the air. According to most charts that I’ve found, dew points in the 40-50 degree range feel very dry, like you would feel in a desert… Dew points between 50-60 degrees generally feel comfortable, dew points between 60-70 degrees are generally uncomfortable, and dew points 70+ degrees are utterly oppressive. Yesterday afternoon our dew point in Nashville was hovering around 70-72 degrees. Relative humidity takes into account the air temperature as well as the dew point, and the relationship between temperature and RH is inverse. That means that as the air temp goes up, the RH goes down. Of course the relationship between dew point and RH is converse. Again, if you want a really good, albeit long explanation then visit this website. Fortunately, TN is in for a bit of a relief from the oppressive conditions we’ve been enduring. Cold fronts during the summertime aren’t exactly “cold” though they do normally bring slightly cooler temps, but the main thing they usually bring is a drier airmass. The typical summer weather pattern in the southeast US often involves hot and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico being blown northward across the southeastern states, creating the conditions we’ve been experiencing the past few weeks. Sometimes, however, an airmass that originates over the northern US and Canada will make its way southward. That’s exactly what’s happening today, and the dew point is already falling (this morning it was 68, and right now at lunchtime it’s all the way down to 61!). This airmass is drier because it originated over a large area of land, rather than water. All forecast I’ve seen are in agreement that the dry weather will persist for at least a week, if not more, though the temps will creep back up into the 90s by this weekend. But 90 degree temps with a dew point of 60 is hella better than 90/70!

I must mention a couple of science news tidbits that pinged my radar today and yesterday…

The Obama Administration has announced a new national policy for aerospace that supports and guides the plans for NASA that were announced back in February. This is more of an over-arching “this is where we’re headed” type of policy, and it needed to be implemented to be in line with Obama’s NASA plans. Again, I fully agree with his desire to cancel the Constellation program, rely on the private space industry for low-earth orbit, and focus NASA on exploring beyond the moon. With this new policy, NASA basically has no choice but to use the plan unveiled in February. Hopefully this will get some of the opponents of Obama’s plan in Congress to STFU. But that’s probably a pipe dream. (Via Space.com)

The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva continues to creep closer and closer to its final goal of having the most intense proton collisions ever. Right now, Fermilab still holds the record for highest beam intensity, but the LHC just set a new record for overall number of proton collisions. It will be several more years before they have the LHC running at full capacity, but I have no doubt it will pay off. (Via Discovery News)

Today President Obama will speak at the Kennedy Space Center and unveil his updated vision for space exploration to the public and to NASA. The original plan he put forth in Feb. was met with harsh criticism because it canceled the entire Constellation program and left the job of getting astronauts to the International Space Station and low-earth orbit entirely in the hands of private industry after the scheduled termination of the Space Shuttle program in 2015. A few days ago intentionally-leaked information hit the blogosphere and rumors abound about what his updated plan will look like. The biggest rumors are that he’ll be injecting an additional $6 billion over the next few years specifically targeted at development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle. This rocket would primarily be for getting parts of a larger spacecraft into orbit, and no doubt that larger spacecraft will be intended to take humans to Mars and other solar system destinations. The other big rumor is that he wants to bring back one component of the gutted Constellation program- the Orion crew capsule. Instead of being the primary method of getting US astronauts to the ISS, however, it will simply serve as a US escape capsule attached to the ISS. This would alleviate the problem of US astronauts relying on the Russian Soyuz capsule as an escape pod. More on these rumors can be found at Universe Today and Space.com.

I will be watching the live coverage of Obama’s speech on NASA’s website. The streaming video starts at 12:30pm CDT, and Obama’s speech is scheduled for 1:40pm CDT. I’m looking forward to seeing just what he has in mind and how well he sells the idea to the skeptics and naysayers.

For the record, as I’ve said before, I’m totally behind his plan, and not just because I’m a liberal and I voted for him. NASA has gotten into a rut ever since the Apollo era, mostly due to political bullshit. They’ve done some awesome stuff, but the drive to explore new horizons has largely been lost. With the budding new private spaceflight industry there’s no reason why NASA can’t utilize them to do the simple, routine tasks of getting us to the ISS and low-earth orbit. NASA would be spinning its wheels and wasting money to focus on that task. To fulfill its original purpose, NASA need to focus its efforts getting us further into our solar system- Mars, asteroids, and robotic explorations to places like Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus, and Jupiter’s moon Europa, all of which have exciting potential as homes for microbial extraterrestrial life.

So tune in to Obama’s speech at 1:40 today, and in the meantime, check out astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson’s comments on NASA’s future, from a recent Q & A session at the University of Buffalo.

(Via Bad Astronomy)