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NWSlogoIt’s been quite a while since I posted much of anything weather-related, but now is as good a time as any! Our middle TN National Weather Service office started a Facebook page a while back, and I’ve been loving the hell out of it. Let’s face it, the weather service has always had a bit of an image problem. I’d be willing to bet that when most people think of the NWS, they think of a boring office with a bunch of crotchety old dudes staring at weather maps & computer screens. But in reality, the meteorologists are dedicated and passionate scientists who truly love what they do, and they enjoy talking about weather on a more conversational level, too! That’s exactly what their Facebook page is for, and it’s filled with tons of interesting factoids, tidbits, and more humanized/conversational information about the forecast. The forecasters are on there quite often, and are very good about responding to comments or questions posted. They also just closed submissions on a summer weather photo contest, and you can browse through the album and vote on your favorites. The photo with the most likes as of June 20th will be declared the winner. So check out their Facebook page and Like it. Even if you’re not as big of a weather nerd as I am, I promise you will learn something interesting if you Like the page and follow their posts!

Speaking of weather, I’m looking forward to the very favorable forecast for this year’s Bonnaroo! I will be there taking photos for the Scene as I have for the last 5 years, and thus I’m issuing my yearly Bonnaroo posting disclaimer: *This will be my last post before Bonnaroo, and posting will resume sometime early next week.* Be sure to follow our coverage and photos over at the Nashville Cream! Also, my girlfriend Lauren will be there with me blogging about the new & improved food options on her blog Old Red Boots, so follow her coverage to see the festival through the eyes of a foodie. But back to the weather- while it’d be nearly impossible to beat last year’s utterly euphoric Bonnaroo weather, this year’s forecast looks very good. Thursday is a little iffy as there’s currently a 30% chance of showers & storms, and the Storm Prediction Center has Manchester right on the edge of their ‘Slight Risk’ area for severe weather in their convective outlook. BUT, that activity should be pretty scattered/isolated so the risk is still pretty low. Friday & Saturday are damn-near perfect, however- sunny skies with mid to upper 80s for highs and low to mid 60s for lows- very similar to last year! That temperature span also suggests lower humidity! Sunday will be a little hotter with highs in the upper 80s and Sunday night brings back a 20% chance of showers. Overall, you really couldn’t ask for a better Bonnaroo weather forecast. See you here next week!

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Here’s an interesting tidbit that came across my radar today: A very illusive and rare meteor shower may flare up tonight for the first time since 1930! On June 11th of that year, a small group of astronomers reported a short-lived meteor shower that was sought out in subsequent years, but never seen again. Now an astronomer named Peter Jenniskens with NASA and SETI has suggested that Earth is passing through the same comet trail it did back in 1930, and thus we could see this rare outburst, called the Gamma Delphinids, again- TONIGHT. Fortunately the moon will have set several hours before the expected peak between 2:30 and 4:30am CDT, leaving only the weather to stand in the way of getting to witness this rare event. I must point out, however, that scientists aren’t nearly as certain about this meteor shower as they are about the more reliable yearly showers such as the Leonids, Geminids, Perseids, etc… So if you’re a fan of meteor showers and have the will power to get up in the wee hours and sit outside to watch, tonight could reward your efforts with a show not seen in 83 years. (Via Universe Today and the American Meteor Society)

In other science news, more evidence of normal, habitable water on the ancient Mars surface was discovered recently. You’re probably thinking this discovery came from the Curiosity rover, but it actually came from Opportunity, one of the twin rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Opportunity’s team sent her to investigate an interesting rock outcropping, and they found evidence of certain clay minerals that could only have formed in water that would be habitable to life as we know it. This discovery is right in line with Curiosity’s findings from February, and strongly supports the theory that Mars once had running water on the surface, and might have even supported microbial life! As Curiosity keeps trekking toward Mount Sharp, the rover will keep looking for these same minerals to help paint a clearer picture of Mars’ watery past. (Via New Scientist)

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover is back to work on Mars, after a few weeks of radio silence due to Mars’ being behind the Sun from Earth’s perspective. The photo above shows a new hole created by Curiosity’s drill, and scientists hope that the analysis of the samples taken from this hole will match up with, or at least support, the exciting results of the previous drilled rock analysis back in February. Those results suggested that Mars’ surface was once habitable for microbial life as we know it. The results of the analysis will no doubt be released in the next few weeks, before Curiosity begins the long drive to its ultimate destination, a huge layered mountain known as Mt. Sharp. (Via Universe Today)

Warning: If you are one who is prone to getting sucked into rabbit holes of Wikipedia links and losing all sense of productivity, I highly recommend you DO NOT read this article while at work!  Wikipedia has a really awesome, really addictive list of common misconceptions. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! (Via Kottke.org)

kepleroriginal-original

Credit: NASA/Kepler

Some sad news from NASA: the immensely successful Kepler Mission in danger. The space-based planet hunting telescope has suffered another malfunction with one of its reaction wheels. The craft had four of these wheels to begin with, and they are responsible for keeping the spacecraft correctly oriented. It lost one of the wheels last year, but can still survive with three. Now that another wheel has stopped functioning, it will be nearly impossible for engineers to keep Kepler correctly pointed at the small patch of sky it’s been staring at since the mission began. NASA engineers think they can devise a way to use the spacecraft’s thrusters to coarsely aim it in the right direction, but since the process of analyzing Kepler’s observations is so painstaking and tedious, coarse alignments may not be accurate enough to keep the mission running normally. NASA engineers also haven’t given up on getting the wheel working again, so we’ll have to wait and see how this pans out. Even if Kepler dies, the mission has already been a huge success and there are several other new planet hunting missions in the works. For more on this story check out the always-reliable Bad Astronomy.

It’s been way too long since I last posted anything science-related. Photographing weddings, playing in two bands, and working a day job has eaten up all of my spare time lately! But I’ve found enough time to bring you some exciting updates and cool videos today.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Above is a comparison of the 5 newly confirmed exoplanets in the Kepler-62 system. The Kepler mission also confirmed an exoplanet around another star, Kepler-69, but that one isn’t nearly as interesting as the Kepler-62 system. Specifically, Kepler-62e and 62f are very exciting because they are officially the smallest potentially habitable exoplanets discovered to date! 62e and 62f are about 1.6 and 1.4 times the size of Earth, respectively. Based on our best computer models for planetary formation and evolution, scientists estimate that 62e is probably cloudy and quite warm, while 62f is probably covered in water and quite cooler, possibly even covered in ice. But different atmospheric conditions could change that significantly… there’s no way (yet) to know for sure. For more on this exciting discovery check out Universe Today and Bad Astronomy.

In related news: Building on the awesome success of the Kepler mission, NASA has announced its next exoplanet-hunting mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. Scheduled for launch in 2017, this new space-based telescope will look for exoplanets in the same way the Kepler mission has been, but it will use four wide-angle telescopes to look at a much broader part of the sky.

Now for the video goods. These are both very cool short segments from Canadian astronaut and current ISS commander Chris Hadfield.

This one is a mesmerizing demonstration of how water behaves in a zero-gravity environment by wringing out a wet washcloth:

And this one is Chris talking about possibly the coolest aspect of being in the ISS- taking breathtaking photographs of Earth from the ISS’s cupola:

 

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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS

Fuck yes! That’s all I can think right now about the awesome news that came from NASA a few hours ago. The Curiosity rover has found evidence in samples of rock gathered a few weeks ago that Mars once had an environment suitable for microbial life. The rover drilled out samples from inside a rock in an area dubbed “Yellowknife Bay” by mission scientists. Those powder samples where then analyzed by specialized instruments on board, and the results showed that sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus, and carbon are all present in the rock. The range of minerals actually surprised the mission scientists, who weren’t expecting to find quite such a wide range of minerals.

“Were conditions on Mars ever suitable for life?” is one of the core questions the Curiosity mission, and now that question has been answered with a big YES. This is very exciting news, and hopefully there will be even more clues into Mars’ past discovered on this mission. For the full report, check out the press release on NASA’s website.

In other, less-exciting science news, beware of media reports claiming that fossils of diatoms (microscopic plant life) were recently found inside a meteorite. The claims come from Chandra Wickramasinghe, who is a scientist known for outlandish claims that don’t stand up to real scientific scrutiny, and are largely intended to stir controversy. This latest report claims that the fossilized diatoms were found inside a fragment of a meteorite that fell over Sri Lanka in 2012. Except they don’t prove that a) the sample was from said meteorite, or b) that the sample was from a meteorite at all! Also diatoms are EVERYWHERE on earth, and can very quickly contaminate any meteorites that make it to the surface. Thankfully there are skeptics like Dr. Phil Plait out there who regularly and thoroughly debunk such things when they pop up. Head over to his blog Bad Astronomy to read more on how Wickramasinghe’s experiments were flawed, and why his claims just don’t hold water.

Credit: Inspiration Mars

Credit: Inspiration Mars

Billionaire Dennis Tito, who is known as the first-ever space tourist, unveiled on Wednesday Inspiration Mars, a plan to launch two people, likely a married couple, on mission to Mars in 2018. The best part: the spaceship in which they travel will be lined with the couple’s own shit! This whole idea sounds incredibly far-fetched, and I even mentioned my doubt of its feasibility last week when the “teaser” press release about the press release made some headlines. It still sounds kinda crazy because of the part about the shit (I’ll get to that in a minute), but they left out one really important detail last week- the couple won’t actually be landing on Mars, just flying around it once in a spacecraft. Actually landing on Mars is really, REALLY, REALLY hard in terms of engineering and feasibility, but just sending a couple of people on a slingshot around it? Not quite as hard. Tito is very committed to making it happen, and is even prepared to fund the first two years of mission development, so this could work. More details on the project can be found in this New Scientist article.

Now, as far as the shit goes… it’s really not as crazy as it sounds. One of the biggest challenges to deep space exploration like this is that the crew members will get bombarded with genetic mutation-inducing cosmic radiation. We’re talking X-rays and Gamma rays, along with the ever-present solar wind of ions. It’s practically a death sentence if you can’t shield the crew from all that, and as it turns out, dried up human waste is actually pretty good at just that! Rather than just jettison it into space, why not seal it up in (fully sanitary, of course) bags and line your spaceship with it to add to the shielding of your spaceship? Astronauts onboard the ISS are already using a reactor system that recycles the water from their urine, and gross as it may seem, this mission will do that AND recycle the moisture from their poop. When you’re going on a 500 day mission to Mars, you have to be very resourceful. For more on the poop shield, see this other article on New Scientist.

In other Mars-related news, unfortunately the Curiosity Rover has suffered a computer glitch which has forced the team to switch everything over to the rover’s backup computer. In short, they will slowly reboot all the rover’s systems from the backup computer, make sure everything checks out, and continue with normal operations. Meanwhile, another team will investigate the problem with the primary computer and attempt to fix it so that it’s operational and can be used in case the backup computer fails. For more, check out this post on Universe Today.

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