Carnivalia — 10/29 – 11/04/2014

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

Carnival of Space #378

Friday Ark #496

History Carnival #139

Morsels for the Mind — 31/10/2014

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The scientific tourist #338 — Lord Shield Jaguar and Lady Xoc

Another excellent piece from the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed traveling exhibit, it’s a replica of Lintel 24 from Yaxchilan in Chiapas, Mexico:

Lord Shield Jaguar and Lady Xoc

The original piece is now in the British Museum in London, but this particular example is considered a masterpiece of Maya sculpture, so it has spawned replicas in a number of museums.   Continue reading

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Carnivalia — 10/22 – 10/28/2014

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

Carnivalesque #106 (pre-modern history)

Carnival of Space #377

Friday Ark #425

Health Wonk Review

Math Teachers at Play #79

Morsels for the Mind – 24/10/2014

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The scientific tourist #337 — Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Seen at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, near Austin, Texas — but found nearly worldwide — it’s a living fossil:

Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Equisetum (a genus containing 15 species) is the only living genus of the once-diverse family Equisetopsida.  These now-odd plants first appeared in the late Devonian (some 100 million years after the first land plants made their appearance), and for more than 100 million years dominated the understory of Earth’s forests.  Members of the family even grew as large trees, some 30 meters tall.

But today, the horsetails play a more humble role, typically growing no more than 1.5 meters tall, but native to nearly the entire planet’s surface — essentially all but Antarctica, Australia, and New Zealand.  Unlike most plants, they reproduce via spores (rather than by seeds), and so are closely related to ferns.

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Carnivalia — 10/15 – 10/21/2014

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

Carnival of Space #376

Friday Ark #494

Morsels for the Mind — 17/20/2014

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The scientific tourist #336 — Stela A, Copan

Another find brought to you via the “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” traveling exhibit, it’s (a very good casting of) Stela A from Copan, Honduras:

Stela A, Copan

Dating from 731 AD, this front face of Stela A depicts Waxaklajuun U’baah K’awiil equipped to perform a personal blood sacrifice, in the process transforming himself from the king of Copan into its patron god.  Two bags hanging from his belt hold bloodletting tools.  Behind him, vision serpents bring forth the spirit of his grandfather, also a deified king.

Stela A commemorates a series of rituals that ended when the monument was placed in a plaza in Copan. According to the inscriptions, nobles from the most powerful Maya kingdoms witnessed these ceremonies, placing King Waxaklajuun U’baah K’awiil at the center of both politics and the cosmos.

(note: much of this text comes from placards surrounding the base of the stela)

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Carnivalia — 10/08 – 10/14/2014

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

Carnival of Space #375

Friday Ark #493

Health Wonk Review

Morsels for the Mind — 10/10/2014

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The scientific tourist #335 — the Apollo 14 capsule

On display at the Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, Florida — it’s the Apollo 14 capsule (command module), a.k.a. Kitty Hawk:

Apollo 14 capsule

Apollo 14 was the fourth Apollo to leave Earth orbit, and carried the crew for what would be the third manned lunar landing.  The Apollo 14 crew of Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Ed Mitchell launched on January 31, 1971.  Shepard and Mitchell landed on February 5 in the Fra Mauro highlands, the planned landing site for the aborted Apollo 13 mission. Their lunar lander Antares touched down within 50 meters of its planned target point.

After 33 hours on the lunar surface, Shepard and Mitchell rejoined Roosa in Kitty Hawk and returned to earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on February 9, 1971.

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Carnivalia — 10/01 – 10/07/2014

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

Carnival of Evolution #76

Carnival of Space #374

Friday Ark #492

History Carnival #138

Morsels for the Mind – 03/10/2014

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The scientific tourist #334 — the SM-64 Navaho Cruise Missile

Standing guard outside the entrance gate to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, it’s a Navaho cruise missile:

SM-64 Navaho Cruise Missile

If there were an award for the most successful failed development program, I’m pretty confident that the seldom-mentioned Navaho would win it decisively.  While never being fielded, it helped pioneer technologies that had a huge range of application in subsequent years.

But let’s start at the beginning.

After the end of the Second World War, the U. S. Army Air Force saw the need for long-range missiles — but the technology was so immature that they opted to pursue three parallel (and very different) approaches in the hope that at least one would succeed.  The one felt least likely to succeed was that of intercontinental ballistic missiles, building upon the German V-2.  The most conservative approach was that of subsonic cruise missiles — essentially, improving upon the German V-1 missile with a longer-range design that eventually led to the ill-fated Snark.  The third approach was to build a supersonic cruise missile.

North American Aviation won this third contract, and began their work in 1946 by proposing an Americanized development of / improvement on Von Braun’s A4b / A9 boost-glide missile designs.  But the original surplus V-2 rocket engines proved too heavy and the A9 design was unstable at some speeds — so this idea gradually changed into what was essentially a better A9.  Subsequent requirement changes driven by the Air Force (similar to the ones that impacted the Snark‘s development) then extended its required range from 800 km to 1600 km to 4800 km to 8000 km, and its payload from 900 kg to 1360 kg to 4500 kg.

In the process, the Navaho missile morphed into a two-staged tandem affair — a liquid-propellant rocket carrying a ramjet-propelled Mach 3 cruise missile on its back.  The idea was that the pair would launch from the ground under rocket power, then at about 50,000 ft. altitude the ramjets would be ignited and the rocket booster discarded, with the jet-propelled missile taking its warhead to its target.

Development of the missile’s ground-breaking navigation system, its booster rocket engines, and ramjet cruise engines all moved forward in parallel, but with a dizzying array of problems to match their complexity.  Four unsuccessful test flights were launched from Cape Canaveral in 1956 and 1957, not to mention many failed attempts at launches that never got off the ground (earning the program the nickname “Never Go, Navaho”).  By the time the program was cancelled in July of 1957, it was obvious that ICBMs had won the “race” to provide the U.S. a long-range strategic deterrent (even after cancellation, seven more test flights were conducted using already-build Navahos, none of which were 100% successful).

But you can’t say that Navaho died without leaving descendants.  The rocket engine technology it drove would propel the missiles that replaced it (Atlas, Titan, and Thor), as well as the Jupiter and Redstone boosters used by NASA.  The Navaho navigation system would find use in bombers and submarines (and the Hound Dog), with later derivatives finding their way into commercial craft.  Materials and techniques pioneered by the Navaho development paved the way for the aerospace technologies we take for granted today.

The lonely Navaho missile on display outside the CCAFS gate is significant for more than the program’s history, and for the fact that CCAFS was home to the Navaho test launches.  This missile is the sole surviving Navaho airframe.

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