Friday, August 17, 2012

Origins of the Bloop

The Bloop is just one of those mysterious events in history. There is enough evidence to prove that it happened but no sufficient explanation.

In 1977 scientists stationed at the U.S National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration stationed at the Pacific Ocean noticed something very peculiar. Their system of hydrophones (underwater microphones) picked up a low frequency but very loud signal. Now these scientists had monitored underwater earthquakes, moving glaciers, and whales but this noise was different. For one thing it was loud, enough in fact that another station with a hydrophone was able to hear the sound 3106 miles (5000 km) away. Another thing that made this very peculiar was the frequency of the sound was only similar but not quite the same as biological sources and too different from natural occurrences.

So where did the Bloop come from? Well, no one really knows. At first considered the biological origin theory but it’s several times louder than a blue whale which is the loudest known animal. To further add to the mystery scientists have found other unexplained sounds similar to the Bloop, all of which have baffled scientists.

What do you think it is? Listen to a video of the Bloop below and tell us what you think it is.

Monday, August 6, 2012

TrES-2b: The Darkest Exoplanet

The Keplar mission is to find alien worlds and this is perhaps one of the strangest planets Keplar has ever found. The planet TrES-2b is the darkest planet that ever seen. How pitch black is this planet? Well it’s darker than coal so that should tell you something. This planet reflects practically no light (1%) from the star it orbits.

The way Keplar found this planet was also quite interesting. Planets are never observed directly, they are observed by effects they exhibit on their star. When TrES-2b passed in front of its star Keplar was able to monitor the slight change in light. Keplar was able to determine that it was a gas giant relative in size to Jupiter.

TrES-2b is definitely a strange planet. Darkness aside the planet is also extremely close to it’s star. At 1 million miles TrES-2b is also very close to its host star. To give you some perspective Mercury is 28.5 million miles from the sun. This distance coupled with the darkness makes TrES-2b extremely hot. The surface of the planet is 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (980 degrees Celsius). This intense heat also gives the black planet a reddish glow.

Perhaps the most interesting about TrES-2b is the cause of the planets color. Scientists think that it may be because of gases present in its atmosphere but they remain uncertain. As of now TrES-2b remains in the books as one of the most interesting exoplanets.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Top 5 Worst Oil Spills

5. Exxon Valdez
Location: Prince William Sound, Alaska 1989 
Oil Spilled: 200,000 tonnes

While it isn't one of the biggest oil spills to have happened it definitely was one of the worst spills. Off the coast of Alaska the Exxon Valdez tanker hit a reef and spilled tonnes of oil all over the place. The Exxon Valdez only had half the crew of a normal tanker and had to work with inadequate technology on the ship. Due to the remoteness of the area it was extremely difficult for rescue workers and cleanup workers to get to the oil spill in the first place. By the time clean up crew could reach the area the wide array of wildlife was dead. It was considered the worst oil spill in the U.S until....

4. Deepwater Horizon
Location: Gulf of Mexico near Mississippi River Delta, United States 2010 
Oil Spilled: 200,000-400,00 tonnes

You all probably know the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the infamous spill that destroyed the sea, fish, and BP. To be honest this oil spill is actually small compared to other oil spills, so why did it make this list? While it may not have been the absolute worst oil spill it definitely caused some serious damage. Whereas other oil spills occured in less populated areas, this occurred in the center of major fishing waters. Also different from other similar sized oil spills is the fact that oil washed up on the shore and killed animals there as well. So while it may have been one of the smaller oil spills it definitely caused a commotion in the Gulf of Mexico.

3. IXTOC1 Spill
Location: Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico 1980 
Oil Spilled: 470,000 tonnes

The IXTOC1 spill (say that 3x times fast) was one of the many spills that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexican company Pemex was drilling a deep oil well when the drilling ship suffered a blowout. The effects were disastrous with local fisherman tell stories of dead fish washing on shore while scientists report that 50% of the local fish and octopus population died off.

2.Gulf War Oil Spill
Location: Persian Gulf 1991 
Oil Spilled: 1,090,000 tonnes

In 1991, during the Gulf War, lots of people did things they regretted. Iraqi forces opened up their valves and what resulted was the number two worst oil spill ever. American forces (thinking that they could shut the well) started bombing the valves which failed to shut the valve. Although the Persian gulf's temperature helped the oil evaporate faster it still hurt the diverse wildlife that lived in the area. And unlike the other spills on the list cleanup workers could not reach the area leaving an even more devastated area.

1. Lakeview Gusher
Location: Kern County, California 1910 
Oil Spilled: 1,200,000 tonnes

Any place which had 1.2 million tonnes of oil dumped onto it is never going to be a pretty place. The story goes that the Lakeview Oil Company started drilling for oil in Kern County. What they intended to find was natural gas but what they didn't realize was that they were sitting on the largest reserve of oil in America. What they also didn't realize was that the well in question was over pressured from the amount of oil it contained. When Lakeview started drilling it burst this bubble and caused the above mentioned 1.2 million tonnes of oil to be dumped onto the land. The environment around Kern County was completely changed. The area around the site changed into a sea of caked oil. The spillage lasted 18 months but the effects can be seen even now 100 years later.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bionic Eyes: Seeing Reality

Blindness is unfortunately common , but it may not be for long. Researchers are using new technology to fix the eyes of people affected with blindness by installing a new chip into the eye. This super thin chip is only 3mm across and is packed with light sensors. Using a thin wire connected to the eye helps the damaged nerves process information. The chip along with the wire helps stimulate the nerves of the patient. The patient also wear a pair of specialized glasses which send the images to the chip where the brain next registers it. The new technology is not perfect, as it can only help patients who possessed some type of sight in the past and can only help patients recognize large objects.

Although this chip is only a prototype Bionic Vision Australia, the company behind the technology, is also working on a High Acuity version. This version will have 1024 electrodes as opposed to the 98 electrodes in the other version. The extra electrodes can help give a more detailed view to the patient.

Perhaps sometime in the future the technology will be perfected and blindness will be a thing of the past.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Fastest, Highest, Most Extreme Skydive

See that guy up there? How far do you think he's falling from? 20,000, maybe 30,000 feet? No that man up there is Joseph Kittinger and on August 16, 1960 he fell to Earth from an incredible 102,800 feet!

Joseph Kittinger was quite possibly the bravest men of his time. Joseph Kittinger was a decorated pilot and after the Korean War he started to work for the  Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories. That is where it all started with Project Excelsior. Project Excelsior was designed around testing parachutes for pilots ejecting from planes. Technology of airplanes was progressing to the point where high altitude planes were becoming a common sight and the safety of these pilots was a growing concern. This is where Kittinger came in. Kittinger's job was to take a balloon to extreme heights and just jump out. 

Kittinger made two jumps prior to his record breaking third attempt. The first one, occurring in November 1959 was at a height of 76,400 feet but due to a malfunction his parachute deployed too early causing him to spiral out of control and subsequently the next attempt was at 74,700 feet. To give you an idea on how high these jumps were most skydivers of today jump between 16,000 to 20,000 ft with the highest civilian skydive capped at 30,000 ft. His third attempt was at the insane height of 102,800 ft. During his initial free fall Kittinger broke the sound barrier falling at 614 mph (988 km/h).

Kittinger 's record for the fastest and highest skydive still stands more than 50 years later, although perhaps not for long. Felix Baumgartner (with coaching from Kittinger) hopes to break that record at last. 

Science Behind Ferrofluid


Ferrofluid is probably one of the strangest materials known. Ferrofluid is a solution which becomes strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field. The solution behaves not only as a liquid but behaves as a metal as well. In order to explain this phenomena we have to look at the composition.

Ferrofluid is composed of magnetic particles suspended in a liquid solution. These magnetic particles are about half the size of a ribosome in a cell (really really small) and are encased in a carrier fluid (usually water). Without a magnetic field the solution has no net magnetization but as soon as a magnetic field is brought near it the particles in the solution orient themselves to their magnetic field lines. Essentially the magnetic fields repel the particles in the solution while gravity and surface tension keep them from splashing everywhere.

So just what are ferrofluids used for? Well there are plenty of uses for it such as in engineering and medicine. With regards to engineering ferrofluids are able to reduce friction and resistance between magnets. Ferrofluids are also being used to detect cancer and possibly as a cure due to its ability to transfer and give off heat. This material is still relatively new so it seems only time will show the other uses of this unique solution.

Where Are the Flying Cars?

One of the most common complaints I hear from people is where the heck are the flying cars? It turns out building a flying car is much harder than people think.

Lets take a look at some attempts at a flying car. One of the first attempts was done in the 1940's by a man named Ted Hall. Hall was an innovative man and to achieve his goal of a flying car he stuck plane wings on a car and no doubt drowned in praise. The crazy thing was it actually flew but the project was scrapped because of structural issues. Another recent attempt took place in 2003 with the Moller Skycar. The Moller Skycar was designed from the ground up and used four rotapower engines to achieve vertical takeoffs. Unfortunately the Moller Skycar was limited to hovering a short distance and failed to achieve full flight.

Moller Skycar
The main problem with creating a flying car aren't just structural problems but practical design problems as well. In order to be practical a flying car first needs to achieve vertical liftoff. The vehicle needs to be able to transition smoothly from ground to sky and because not everyone has a mile of runway at their disposal vertical liftoff is the only possible solution. The vehicle also needs to be able to easy to operate so that the average person can safely drive it without losing control. Added to all that is the ability to cheaply mass produce while retaining safety feature in case of a crash and the reason we don't have flying cars.