Category Archives: The Red Folder

Indian independence, Doppler effect on a train, contagious science

 

By Michael Banks

This week India celebrated 70 years of independence. So what better way to mark the occasion than a music video? Step forward 20 or so scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), who dub themselves the Rocket Band. Over the space of 18 months, they worked feverishly to create a seven-minute music video entitled “I am an Indian”. Mostly shot on the coast of the Arabian Sea, the video features the researchers walking along the beach as well as an animation of the Indian flag being put on the surface on the Moon. “We have a lot of talent in ISRO, making rockets comes naturally to many of us while making music is tough but it is not rocket science,” aerospace engineer Shiju G Thomas told NDTV.

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Ancient eclipse art, asteroid finds early fame, unwitting face of graphene underwear

A Chaco Canyon petroglyph that may depict the 1097 total solar eclipse

Ancient eclipse: a Chaco Canyon petroglyph (Courtesy: University of Colorado)

By Sarah Tesh, Matin Durrani and Michael Banks

The approaching total solar eclipse on 21 August is the subject of much interest and excitement — but the Earth has of course been in and out of the Moon’s shadow since it formed. While we have the technology to take spectacular photos of the corona framing the Moon, our ancestors were limited to much cruder means of recording such events. For example, the ancient petroglyph (a carving in rock) shown above may represent a total eclipse that occurred in 1097.  The carving is on a free standing rock known Piedra del Sol  in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.  “I think it is quite possible that the Chacoan people may have congregated around Piedra del Sol at certain times of the year and were watching the sun move away from the summer solstice when the eclipse occurred,” says solar physicist J. McKim Malville from the University of Colorado, Boulder in the US, who focuses on archaeoastronomy. Other nearby carvings may be related to the 1054 supernova and the passing of Halley’s Comet in 1066. “The appearance of the spectacular supernova and comet may have alerted the residents of the canyon to pay attention to powerful and meaningful events in the sky,” says Malville. Hopefully our records of astronomical events will be as long lasting as those of the Chacoan people.

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Happy birthday Curiosity, overpaid footballers, cheeky Einstein photo sells

By Sarah Tesh, Hamish Johnston and Michael Banks

It’s Mars Curiosity’s 5th birthday tomorrow! The NASA rover touched down on 5 August 2012 and has been exploring the red planet ever since. It has travelled more than 10 miles, studied more than 600 vertical feet of rock and even proved that Mars was once habitable. While a Mars birthday party for Curiosity would be a lonely affair, researchers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center have programmed the rover to sing “Happy birthday” to itself using its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. To introduce ground samples into the rover, SAM resonates through a range of frequencies, so the researchers programmed the instrument to run through the frequencies of the celebratory song.

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Ravens at LIGO, stained-glass physics, fake space pics

Stained glass physics plots

Grand designs: Los Alamos physicist Hubert van Hecke combines his hobby of stained-glass windows with physics. (Courtesy: Hubert van Hecke)

By Michael Banks and Sarah Tesh

Researchers working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory might be answering some of the biggest questions in astrophysics, but last week they had a rather more down-to-Earth problem to solve. When spurious glitches were picked up by the detector characterization group at the LIGO detector based in Hanford, Washington, they went on an investigation to find the culprit. The team suspected that ravens were to blame as they had been seen causing mischief on tubes that vent nitrogen gas. These pipes are connected to the vacuum enclosure and any vibration could change the optical path length of light that is scattered from the test mass and reflected back. Upon closer inspection, LIGO researchers found peck marks that were “consistent with the size of a raven’s beak”. Not content with just watching the birds at play, the team even performed “simulated pecking” to see how this affected the machine’s performance. With the culprit now identified, you will be pleased to hear that the lines are set to be insulated to fend off the birds. “I guess we can’t blame [the ravens] for desiring ice on a hot desert afternoon,” writes Robert Schofield in a LIGO logbook post.

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The Doomsday Clock ticks over 70 years, an exoplanet Westeros

Circa 1988: the Doomsday Clock during safer times (Courtesy: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Circa 1988: the Doomsday Clock during safer times. (Courtesy: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

By Hamish Johnston

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock that is produced by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Currently at two and a half minutes to midnight, the clock represents the likelihood of a human-caused global catastrophe. Originally, it focused exclusively on a nuclear Armageddon, but in 2007 climate change and other technologically-driven processes were added to the mix. The clock was initially set at seven minutes to midnight in 1947 and the Bulletin has produced a video that charts the ups and downs over the past seven decades. Is there any good news? In the image above you can see that South Africa was a nuclear power in 1988, and it has since disarmed.

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Snapping the Milky Way, art inspired by SLAC blueprints, doppelganger magazine covers

Top tip: use a remote shutter control (Courtesy: Clifton Cameras)

Top tip: use a remote shutter control. (Courtesy: Clifton Cameras)

By Hamish Johnston

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with dark skies, you know that the Milky Way is a truly majestic sight. But how exactly would you go about capturing its magnificence with a camera? UK-based Clifton Cameras has put together an infographic with a few helpful hints. The image above is an excerpt and you can view the entire infographic here.

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Aldrin’s faces for Trump, tunnels to the underworld, physics collides with art

 

By Sarah Tesh

Buzz Aldrin pulled some spectacular facial expressions during a speech by Donald Trump this week. The President of the United States was announcing his executive order to revive the US National Space Council. During points of Trump’s rather rambling speech, the Apollo 11 astronaut looked a combination of unimpressed, confused and bored. But while he may be bemused by the president’s chatter (as many are), he posted a positive Tweet about the executive order, saying, “I’m happy that space is getting the attention it needs to move us forward to committing to plans to get back to the Moon & on to Mars #GYATM.”

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Canada’s birthday physics, Liberty’s true colours, Trump’s Science cover

Famous Canadian: nuclear pioneer Harriett Brooks (Courtesy: PI)

Famous Canadian: nuclear pioneer Harriett Brooks. (Courtesy: PI)

By Hamish Johnston

Tomorrow (1 July) is the 150th birthday of Canada. Or more precisely the anniversary of the day when three British colonies (one of which was already called Canada) joined together and started the long and peaceful journey to becoming fully independent of the UK in 1982. How very Canadian, and I should know because I am one of the 36 million Canadians who will be celebrating tomorrow.

Synonymous with physics in Canada over the past decade or so is the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Folks there have put together a selection of “13 physics innovations you may not know are Canadian”. I wasn’t aware of some of the innovations, including the work of Harriett Brooks (above). But I am pleased to say that I have met both of the physics Nobel laureates mentioned in the article – Art McDonald and Bert Brockhouse.

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A particle physics love song, NASA’s space Olympics, wobbling suitcases

 

By Sarah Tesh

If any physicist couples out there are struggling to find a first-dance song for their wedding, CERN has just come up with the perfect solution. US communications manager Sarah Charley teamed up with grad students Jess Heilman and Tom Perry to produce a particle-physics parody of Howie Day’s song “Collide”. Day came across their music video on Twitter and asked to visit CERN – “I figured it was a long shot, but why not?” The project spiralled from there, leading to Day re-recording the song and filming a new video that features him playing guitar in the LHC tunnel and CERN scientists dancing in their labs.

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Chicken sandwich goes stratospheric, socks for space, dressmakers have needle-sharp vision

Space sandwich: a Zinger floats high above Earth (Courtesy: KFC)

Space sandwich: a Zinger floats high above Earth. (Courtesy: KFC)

By Sarah Tesh and Hamish Johnston

If you could put anything on a high-altitude balloon, what would it be? World View Enterprises has opted for a spicy chicken sandwich. The company plans to run balloon excursions to the stratosphere and on 21 June it will make its debut voyage carrying a Zinger sandwich from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) – but with no-one on board to eat it. According to the New York Times the flight is tied in with KFC’s current space-based advertising campaign and the sandwich will spend at least four days in the stratosphere. As well as planning to charge tourists $75,000 per person for a ride, World View Enterprises says that its balloons could also be used to create an early warning system for tornadoes. (more…)

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