Casual Friday — 5 years of SDO

February 11, 2015 was the fifth anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft.  SDO captures images of the whole sun 24 hours a day, taking more than one image per second.  In the process, it’s given us an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt.  The imagery isn’t just scientifically useful — it’s also captivating, as the constant ballet of solar material through the sun’s atmosphere (the corona) carries on.


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Carnivalia — 2/11 – 2/17/2015

The past week’s selection of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

Carnival of Space #392

Friday Ark #508

Health Wonk Review (Valentine’s Edition)

Morsels for the Mind – 13/02/2015

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The scientific tourist #348 — Islendingur

On display at the Viking World museum near Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, it’s the Islendingur (“Icelander”) — a modern-day recreation of a Viking longship:


But to be specific, this was no attempt to build a “typical” Viking ship — it’s a nearly exact recreation of what’s known as the Gokstad ship — a Viking ship built around 890 AD and uncovered in the 19th century in a burial mound on a farm in Norway.  The Gokstad ship was built during the heyday of Viking expansion in the British isles, and could have carried as many as 70 men at a time on some mix of commercial and raiding trips.

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Carnivalia — 2/04 – 2/10/2015

The past week’s science-related blog carnivals for you:

Carnival of Space #392

Friday Ark #507

Morsels for the Mind – 06/02/2015

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Carnivalia — 1/28 – 2/03/2015

The past week’s selection of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals:

Carnival of Space #391

Friday Ark #506

Health Wonk Review: Super Bowl Edition

History Carnival #142

Morsels for the Mind — 30/01/2015

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Carnivalia — 1/21-1/27/2015

The past week’s selection of (mostly) science-related blog carnivals for you:

Carnival of Space #390

Friday Ark #505

Math Teachers at Play #82

Morsels for the Mind 23/01/2015

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The scientific tourist #347 — Barringer’s rim

If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood of Flagstaff, Arizona, I’d highly recommend a side-trip to see Barringer Crater (a.k.a. Meteor Crater). It’s only about 56 km (35 miles) east of Flagstaff, and not terribly expensive to visit.  Some 50,000 years old, it’s also said to be the best-preserved meteor crater on earth.

Barringer's rim

If you were curious about what a meteor crater rim would look like from the outside, this is that very view for Barringer Crater from its access road (it has its own exchange off Interstate 40).  If you didn’t know any better, you could drive right past it, thinking this was just a low line of hills.

The crater is named for Daniel M. Barringer, a mining engineer who in 1903 first suggested that it may have been caused by a meteor impact.  But solid proof of this was not  in hand until 1960, when Gene Shoemaker discovered shocked silica in the crater — something not otherwise seen on earth, except in craters left over from nuclear test explosions.  While many impact craters have since been found on the earth’s surface, Shoemaker’s discovery means that Barringer Crater holds the title as being the first definitive evidence of impacts on earth.

You might also want to revisit my earlier post on the crater, from all the way back in 2008.

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The scientific tourist #346 — Dilophosaurus tracks

If you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Glen Canyon Dam, I’d definitely recommend you take the time to swing through the visitor’s center.  Along with all sorts of artifacts and displays on the building of the dam, there’s also this bit of more-ancient history — the 170 million year old tracks of a Dilophosaurus:

Dilophosaurus Tracks

First appearing in the early Jurassic period, the Dilophosaurus (named for the pair of bony crests on its head was a one-ton, twenty-foot long carnivore — a smaller version of one was presented (with much creative license, with a neck frill) in the first Jurassic Park movie.  This real one left its mark in the marshy riverine deposits of the Kayenta sandstone formation, to be uncovered in our time in a nearby side canyon.

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The scientific tourist #345 — Glen Canyon Dam

A feat of engineering, yet also a remarkably controversial piece of concrete, it’s the Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona:

Glen Canyon Dam

The Glen Canyon Dam was built for two stated reasons — to provide hydroelectric power, and to assure the supply of water to states on the lower half of the Colorado River.  Construction of the dam started in 1956, and lasted for 10 years; the end result was the creation of Lake Powell, upriver of the structure.

While it has fulfilled its original purposes, the Glen Canyon Dam has not been without abundant controversy over its working life.  It nearly collapsed due to a historic flood season in 1983, it submerged miles of once beautiful canyons upstream, and permanently changed the ecology of the Colorado River downstream of it (essentially, through the Grand Canyon).  Much of its downstream impact comes from the trapping of sediment that would otherwise flow down the river unimpeded; recent restoration efforts aimed at periodically generating flood-like flows have been only partially successful.

If you’d like to see the dam yourself, it’s quite a bit off the beaten path.  It’s not terribly far off one of the usual routes to see the Grand Canyon, though.  Meanwhile Page is the easiest jumping off point if you’re planning on visiting either upper or lower Antelope Canyon, just a few miles to the east.

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The scientific tourist #344 — “Cluster’s Last Stand”

Here you see what was once the last flight-worthy Saturn IB (“one B”) launch vehicle, now on static display at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex:

Cluster's Last Stand

As you may well expect, this vehicle has quite a story to tell.

While most people associate the Saturn launch vehicles with the Apollo program, the Saturns actually started development in 1956 as a productive way to occupy Werner Von Braun’s team at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (now the Marshal Space Flight Center) after the authority to develop new ballistic missiles was stripped from them.  Von Braun and the ABMA’s commander, General Medaris, decided that a worthy and worthwhile challenge was to develop a launch vehicle that could take heavy loads to low Earth orbit.

To save development cost, the first stage of the Saturn I (and subsequent Saturn IB) was built from a cluster of 8 70″ diameter tanks built with Redstone tooling surrounding a single 105″ diameter tank built with Jupiter tooling.  This arrangement was cost effective, but led to the joke nickname of “Cluster’s Last Stand” for both the Saturn I and IB.  The Saturn I only saw flight a few times, while its upgraded variant (with a more powerful second stage) the IB was folded into the Apollo program, and wound up being a workhorse from 1962 well into the 1970s.  Its S-IVB second stage was also the third stage of the Saturn V rocket — easing the use of the Saturn IB as a testbed for the Apollo spacecraft and lunar module (as they in this way had the same launch vehicle interface for both launchers).

Ultimately, twelve complete Saturn 1Bs and parts of two others were built, although only nine of them flew.  Five Saturn 1Bs supported the Apollo program, three lofted crews to the Skylab space station, and one flew the ASTP Apollo spacecraft to its international rendezvous in Earth orbit.

This vehicle on display at KSC is Saturn 1B serial number SA-209.  It was kept in readiness to launch a rescue crew for all the Skylab missions, as well as for the ASTP mission.  It also would have been used for a potential Skylab 5 mission, to re-boost the space stations orbit.  Not having seen use in any of those scenarios, it was retired to its current display spot in the KSC Rocket Garden.

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