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  • Posts Tagged ‘earth’

    Man, Snapple, thanks for ruining my bird fantasies. Wait, that came out wrong…


    2011 - 04.15

    As seen on the inside of a Snapple cap.

    Ever dream of being a bird?  Well you would hardly get to enjoy that glorious blue sky.  It’s kind of sad to think about!

    Well.  Maybe looking down would be the more enjoyable view anyway.  I’m just going to go with that.

    When I’m feelin’ down, these are some things that bring me back up


    2011 - 03.16

    When I started this blog I told myself I would use this space to talk about things that inspire me and highlight the best in human character. I want it to be more about building things up, and talking about what is possible, rather than tearing things down or endless snark, cynicism, pessimism, paranoia, etc. The headlines lately have been dominated by disheartening news, particularly in my home state of Wisconsin, but there have been some awesome things going on, which I want to spend time thinking about.a

    There’s been some great press on the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory lately, including an excellent article in IEEE spectrum.  I had previously blogged about Ice Cube, and it continues to remain in my thoughts, how awesome this thing is. Every time I read dismaying political news or feel despair at the missteps of our society, I remind myself that we’ve got dudes at the south pole tracking cosmic rays, and I feel a little bit better about our species. It’s reassuring–maybe the large majority of people are too caught up in the hustle of daily-life to bother with such existential “big-questions” but there is a tiny group of people working to answer these questions for our behalf. Those people are called heroes.

    Something else which is very, very cool is the STEREO spacecraft. Thanks to these guys, for the first time ever, we have a full 360 degree view of our sun. Sitting in same orbital position as earth, one satellite sped up and one slowed down, so that eventually (read:now!) they are positioned on opposite sides of our star. If I extrapolate correctly from the image above, it looks like from now and until around 2018, we can actually see the whole sun–enabling scientists to track sunspots, and the massive bursts of radiation that periodically spew forth. Although the odds of these radiation bursts and magnetic storms just so happening to align with Earth’s position are low, when it does happen, it directly affects all of our lives, in the form of blackouts, GPS interference, and slowdowns in many global industries affected by this radiation.  The rotating image at right is the first 360 degree composite they made of the sun.  There will be a lot more of these to come!

    The STEREO satellites, to me, represent some small measure of mastery over our cosmic front yard. It’s good to have a window to know what’s happening outside. And it excites me to think that we’re doing it. Not only do we have the technology to do it (the most obvious barrier), but we also have the political willpower to spend them dollas to get up there and DO it (this is the real obstacle to most awesome science). That, my friends, is what you call rad.

    I’ll sandwich in an honorable mention slash eulogy here for the NASA Glory satellite, which recently crashed into the Pacific. It’s a sad thing to think about, but worth mentioning, because hopefully they will try again. Long story short it was intended to monitor a whole slew of climate-related metrics to get us closer in touch with what the Earth is doing. Obviously very important work. This is actually the second satellite of this nature which failed to achieve orbit, so conspiracy theorists unite! (that’s the extent of my negativity here today)

    Another neat thing I read about recently is the All-Sky Fireball Network. In addition to having a maximum ass-kicking name, the project monitors the sky with a nationwide network of smart cameras, with the aim of tracking any meteors burning up in the atmosphere. William Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office states coolly, “nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it!” Sweet!!

    Tracking these meteorites also gives them a vector for both where they should land and where they came from. Thus, if any of the meteorites leave remains that can be retrieved upon impact, the guys can study them, knowing a bit about their origin. Doublesweet. In effect it’s like getting free samples from outer space, without the need to launch costly rockets. Their data will also enable spacecraft designers to learn more about the nature of hole-punching threats that meteors would pose to future vehicles. Triplesweet.

    Learning about something like that is exciting, but I also get the feeling like, geez, this is so great, why didn’t we start doing this like 30 years ago? Again, the technology is nothing new, it’s simply summoning the will to pay for it that holds us back. Every time something like this gets funded, our priorities inch a little closer toward making sense in my mind. It’s reassuring to think about!

    Kepler’s Exoplanets, visualized


    2011 - 02.14

    Over at vimeo, there is this excellent video comparing sizes, temperatures and orbital distances of the 1236 planets (I thought it was 1235… now there’s one more!) discovered by the Kepler space telescope. The two highlighted planets are the ones most likely to have ‘habitable’ conditions.

    And this also merits an addendum to my previous Kepler post; all the planets discovered have orbits very close to their stars–just look at the position of Mercury in that video! Which means that all of them have fast orbits.

    Kepler hasn’t even begun discovering the planets that have slow orbits, farther away from their stars. I see only one single planet out of those 1236 that has an orbit wider than Earth’s. Just think what this Kepler work will reveal as the years continue to pass.

    Recycling–now you can be OCD about it too!


    2010 - 12.22

    Mindfulness– it’s half the battle

    I’d like to take a minute to articulate something my inner monologue spends a lot of time debating.  Recycling.  Today I was walking toward the garbage can with a small piece of plastic in my hand, about to toss it out.  Unfailingly, every time I find myself in this situation, there are two thoughts that go through my mind.  The first one is something along the lines of, “well, this piece of plastic is pretty small.  In the end, how significant is it?  I mean, the trash bag itself is made out of plastic, right?”  And then the second thought kicks in, often in a harsh, reprimanding tone; “man, what the fuck are you thinking?  You know that plastic is going to sit in a landfill for at least 500 years before it even STARTS decomposing.  Is that the legacy you want to leave behind?”

    Some sources say it takes 1,000 years before the decomposition of plastic begins.  There’s tons of other things in our lives that take long timescales to recede into the natural environment as well.  Disposable diapers take 550 years, aluminum cans 200-500 years, cigarette butts probably one to five years, and newspapers just two to four weeks.  Styrofoam, that notorious offender, seems to vary wildly in the estimated lifespans I find online.  Anything from a decade to 5,000 years. (Or more!)

    Yet there are other substances with even longer lives than my dreaded tiny plastic wrapper.  Trying to find an answer for how long glass takes to biodegrade is difficult.  Some people place the number at around a million years.  A million years!  That’s just… stupefying.  Suddenly the pressure is really on to enjoy this bottle of Snapple.  Made from the best stuff on Earth–silica and oxygen.  Sand grains.  How long does it take for a beach to biodegrade?

    I remember back home when I was a child, digging in the backyard and finding plenty of pieces of glass in the dirt.  Our house was built way back in the time when people used to bury their own trash in their backyards.  What a crazy idea that seems like today.  There’s so many ways it wouldn’t work–you’d run out of space in no time flat, you’d be worried about polluting the water table from the esoteric materials commonly used today, and it would just be a lot of work!  All that digging.  You’d need to be making some serious holes to dispose of just your kitchen trash alone.  Think of what you’d be doing differently.

    Of course there’d be a flip side: I don’t know about you, but my house is already cluttered with purposeless knick-knacks, and nostalgic mementos that really are just a waste of space.  At some point, I’ll wade through the junk and in a fit of cleansing say, ugh, just throw all this away.  And thusly some antique glass milk bottle that I had been saving for who knows why ends up in the landfill, sandwiched and smooshed under piles of other people’s stuff.  Maybe with the right items surrounding it, the milk bottle lives for a thousand, thousand years.  It’s a sobering thought.  Epochs away and eons from now, when the legacy of anything I ever did, and everyone I ever knew has been long since forgotten, this milk bottle will probably have outlasted it all, preserved underground for millenia, now an ancient artifact for future archeologists, paleontologists, anthropologists to scrutinize and ponder, now why do you think its owner had thrown this away?

    Here’s a nice handy list of items to be neurotic about throwing away:

    * Aluminum Can  200-500 years
    * Batteries – 100 years
    * Cardboard Box- 4 weeks
    * Cigarette Butt up to 10 years
    * Cotton Rag- 1-5 months
    * Disposable Diapers- 500-600 years
    * Glass Bottle  1 Million years
    * Leather- up to 50 years
    * Lumber- 10-15 years
    * Monofilament Fishing Line- 800 years
    * Milk Cartons (plastic coated) 5 years
    * Nylon Fabric- 30-40 years
    * Orange Peel- 2-5 weeks
    * Paper-2-5 months
    * Plastic Film Container- 20-30 years
    * Painted Wooden Stake- 13 years
    * Plastic 6 pack cover- 450 years
    * Plastic Bag- up to 500 years
    * Plastic Coated Paper- 5 years
    * Plastic Soda Bottles- Forever
    * Rope- 3-14 months
    * Rubber Boot sole- 50-80 years
    * Sanitary Pads- 500-800 years
    * Styrofoam- More than 5,000 years
    * Tin Cans- 50-100 years
    * Wool Clothing- 1-5 years

    source links:

    http://www.greenecoservices.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-trash-to-biodegrade/

    http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4928812_does-plastic-container-start-decomposing.html

    “I’m doing my part!”


    2010 - 12.10

    We all need to pitch in, you know, to help the nation.