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From a Thunderbolt - Could a power company use lightning
rods to collect electricity?- John
that you might be able to harvest electrical energy from lightning
is one that scientists have found intriguing for many years. Anybody
who has seen the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future knows
that Doc Brown was able to use a bolt from a thunderstorm to power
his DeLorean/time machine and send Marty McFly back to his own
had one advantage in using lightning that most scientists don't,
however. Because of his time machine he knew exactly when and
where the lightning was going to strike. That's one of the major
problems with trying to harness this source of power. We don't
know exactly where lightning is going to hit, or how powerful
the bolt will be.
stopped scientist from trying to make it work. After all a lighting
strike can carry a lot of power. As much as five billion Joules
of energy which would be enough, by some estimates, to power a
single household for a month.
is to build a series of tall towers in an area that has frequent
thunderstorms in the hopes that they will get struck on a regular
basis. A sort of a "lightning farm." The best place for something
like this would be Florida or the Pacific Coast as those locations
get the most lightning strikes per square mile.
towers in those locations, however, strikes probably would not
be regular enough to make the system economical. However, it might
be possible to get lightning to strike on cue using a laser. Scientists
have been successful in using a high-powered laser with a short
pulse to create what's known as a laser-Induced plasma channel.
The idea is that the laser heats the air so much that ionizes
the gases to form plasma. The plasma conducts electricity much
more easily than the surrounding air so an electrical charge will
travel down the laser's path.
the development of this had been by the military. Imagine being
able to direct an artificial lightning bolt via laser to an enemy
target. It might be able to disable enemy weapons or detonate
munitions at a distance. Using smaller electrical charges (like
those in a Taser) you might be able to build a stun gun like those
seen on Star Trek.
application of the technology, however, might be to use the laser
to create a path from the lightning farm up into thunderclouds
to initiate a lightning strike directly onto your power collection
this brings a new concern. Can you really build a tough enough
system to withstand the surge of five billion Joules of energy?
An Illinois inventor named Steve LeRoy came up with an idea of
how to make it work and demonstrated it using an artificial lightning
bolt that lit up a 60-watt light bulb for 20 minutes. In 2007,
an alternative energy company called Alternate Energy Holdings,
Inc. (AEHI) tested his design. The idea was that a lightning tower
would capture the bolt and some of the energy would be sent to
a capacitor with the rest just being shunted off into the ground.
After working with the idea for a while the company's CEO, Donald
Gillispie, concluded that they "couldn't make it work," although
"given enough time and money, you could probably scale this thing
up... it's not black magic; it's truly math and science, and it
getting power from lightning still might be possible. Some experts,
however, question whether such a system will ever be practical.
Martin A. Uman, co-director of the Lightning Research Laboratory
at the University of Florida noted that while a single lightning
strike is fast and bright, only a small portion of the energy
it actually has reaches the ground. "The energy is in the thunderstorm,"
he explained. "A typical little thunderstorm is like an atomic
bomb's worth of energy. But trying to get the energy from the
bottom of the lightning is hopeless."
Mile-Per-Hour Wind - How do the Voyager spacecraft survive
the (according to NASA) "250,000 to one million per hour" solar
winds while traversing the heliopause? Shouldn't they be obliterated?
the first thing we should do is define what the solar wind is.
It isn't quite like the wind we experience here on the surface
of the Earth.
wind consists of charged particles of the sun that have some gotten
so much kinetic energy (from heat of the sun's corona) that they
can escape from the sun's strong gravity. These particles are
mostly subatomic elements (pieces of atoms) like electrons or
protons. Depending on the activity around the sun the particles,
as you noted, can pick up considerable speed.
our wind consists of air, which is molecules of gas (about 80%
percent of air is nitrogen and most of the rest is oxygen). The
air we have here on the surface is very dense because it is under
pressure. The pressure comes from the thickness of the atmosphere
above us which extends upward for around a hundred miles. This
causes the air to press against you if you are standing at sea
level at around 14.7 pounds per square inch. You don't really
notice this, however, because it comes at you equally from every
the wind pushes against you (its force) isn't just a function
of the speed of the wind, it is also involves the density of the
air. The lower the density of the air, the less the wind pushes
you were standing on Earth and you were hit by a million mile
per hour wind, there wouldn't be much left of you. That kind of
pressure applied to your body would tear it apart. Even a shock
wave of pressure (let's say from an explosion) traveling at a
few hundreds of miles an hour can be very damaging and knock down
there is a big difference between the density of the air at sea
level and the density of the solar wind in space. In fact it's
round a trillion to one difference. To get an idea of what this
means imagine a box one inch square filled with air at the pressure
it is at sea level. To get that air down to the density of the
solar wind you would have to extend that box so it was still was
one inch in height and depth, but almost 16 million miles long,
while still containing the same amount of air.
the solar wind can go whipping by at a million miles per hour,
the density is so, so low that it effectively creates no pressure
on something like the Voyager spacecraft. Yes, the probe carries
sensitive instruments that can detect the wind, but if you were
out there with the spacecraft you would be unable to feel any
pressure against your hand if you were able to hold it out in
the solar wind.
the further the solar wind gets from the sun, the slower it goes.
This means that the Voyagers at the edge of the solar system experience
much less solar wind than say the Apollo spacecraft that carried
the astronauts to the moon. The heliopause, which one of the Voyager
spacecraft just crossed, is actually the boundary where the solar
wind is so far from the sun that slows to a complete stop, blocked
by the interstellar medium (which is really the result of solar
winds from surrounding stars).
lead you to ask the question, "What happened to Voyager when it
hit the interstellar medium?" Well, the answer is "not much,"
because it, like the solar wind, has an extremely low density.
the solar wind is has little density, however, doesn't mean that
it can't have a big effect on the solar system. Most of the effect
it has, however, is due to the electrical charge of the particles.
A good solar flare can send a shock wave of highly charged particles
close to the earth that can damage the electronics inside satellites
and upset radio transmissions.
Shape of the Universe - Sir Stephen Hawking once said that
if one stands long enough at one spot, he can see the back of
his head, due to the curvature of space/time. Of course, this
will take billions of years. By the same token, now that Voyager
has left our solar system, will it ever come back to Earth having
circumnavigated the universe, assuming all things remain equal?
for this quote from Hawking and I haven't found it. However, this
type of example has been used by many cosmologists when they are
trying to describe the shape of the universe, so it's perfectly
believable that Hawking might have used it too.
scenario, called a closed universe, the universe curves back on
itself like a big sphere. It is said that if you stand somewhere
long enough (and with a powerful enough telescope) you could peer
deep into space and see you backside (provide you waited long
enough). By the same token the voyager spacecraft would eventual
comeback to Earth again in some very, very distant future by circumnavigating
the universe. (Imagine and ant walking across a basketball. The
ant is voyager and the universe is the basketball).
this example is great tool for college professors to explain the
shape of a closed universe to astronomy 101 students, it would
never actually work. The most obvious problem is that even if
we are in a closed universe, it is expanding and has been ever
since the big bang. The furthest parts of the universe are actually
moving away from us faster than the speed of light. So if you
were standing there looking for the back of your head through
a telescope you would never see yourself because the light that
bounced off of you carrying your image can never catch up the
with the expanding universe (Imaging an ant trying to walk around
a huge, rapidly expanding balloon. He can't do it because the
balloon expands much faster than he can walk).
voyager is going way slower than the speed of light, it hasn't
got a chance of actually returning to us through by this method
universe, however, is just one of the possible shapes the universe
can have. Much of the current evidence actually favors a flat
universe, like the top of a table.
data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP,
however, suggests the universe might actually be saddle-shaped.
(This might seem like a really odd shape for a universe, but it
permits the points along the outer edges to be as distant from
each other as possible).
was designed to investigate the Cosmic Background Radiation (CBR)
left over from the big bang. The CBR can be detected at every
direction in space and it was thought to be very uniform. However,
WMAP measurements have shown the CBR to be just slightly colder
in one direction than another. This might suggest that the universe
is indeed saddle-shaped (Another theory is, however, that the
difference might have been caused by another universe bumping
question of the shape of the universe isn't really settled yet.
One thing we can be sure, however, is that we won't see voyager
coming back to us anytime in the near future (unless it is carried
by a humongous alien probe like in the 1979 film Star Trek
the Motion Picture).
by Any Other Name... - In science fiction there
are sentient, intelligent alien species: Many are air-breathers,
but many more are methane-breathing or silicon-based creatures.
Scientifically speaking, can there actually be methane-breathing
and/or silicon creatures? - David
part of your question - "can there be methane-breathing creatures?"
- is easy to answer: Yes. And we don't even need to leave the
Earth to find them. They are called "methanophiles." One example
of them is Methylococcus capsulatus, a bacteria that is
often found in soils, landfills, sediments and peat bogs. This
little critter was in the news a few years ago because it was
the first methane breathing creature to get its genome sequenced.
Scientists interested in biotechnology are quite intrigued with
Methylococcus capsulatus as a possible mechanism to make
useful products or services.
isn't inconceivable at all that somewhere out in space you might
find creatures - maybe even intelligent ones - that breath methane.
In fact, scientists analyzing data from the Cassini spacecraft
that has been watching the Saturn moon Titan have suggested there
may be methane involved life on its surface. Hydrogen and acetylene
have been disappearing from the moon's atmosphere for no good
reason. It may be that there is a microbe on the planet breathing
in these compounds and breathing out methane.
of silicon based life, however, is a little more complicated.
Currently all the life we know on Earth (including Methylococcus
capsulatus) depends on organic molecules based on carbon.
Carbon in many ways is a unique element. Its bonding versatility
allows it to form itself into many molecules with differing structures
- rings, long chains and multi-ring chains. It can also double-bond
itself with some atoms. This allows it to make complex molecules
which, in turn, make life possible.
as you mentioned, science fiction stories often picture life that
might be based on another element, usually silicon. (Probably
the most famous of these is the original Star Trek episode "Devil
in the Dark" in which a silicon based life form, called a Horta,
finds itself at odds with Captain Kirk).
in many ways seems like a viable substitute for carbon. It's just
below carbon on the periodic table. It can also form many interesting
and complex molecules too. However, when we actually look for
these we see few of these molecules formed in nature.
point our telescope towards the skies and use the observations
of the spectra of light to see what elements are prevalent, we
find a lot of carbon and not much silicon. Even more important,
we can find a lot of complex organic (carbon-based) molecules
that form naturally, but very few similar complex molecules based
on silicon. This is because the processes that forms heavier elements
in the heart of stars favors carbon over silicon. Also many of
the structures that carbon so easily forms would be unstable if
you had the silicon equivalent. While the largest silicon molecule
observed in nature has only had six silicon atoms, there are molecules
found in nature that can have thousands of carbon atoms.
does not mean that some kind of silicon life might not be possible,
just unlikely. If you could find the right environment, perhaps
deep inside a planet with high pressures and temperatures, the
possibility of silicon life forming might be much larger.
and interesting idea. Could we make synthetic silicon life under
the right conditions in a laboratory? So far this is science fiction,
but who knows.
thought: Our computers use chips that are silicon based. While
computers don't have biological cells, one could argue that if
we ever make intelligent computers that can reproduce themselves,
perhaps we have indeed created a form of silicon-based life!
vs. Asteroid - I read somewhere that the reason a nuclear
bomb causes so much damage is that it superheats the surrounding
air which expands very rapidly to create the blast. I also read
that a way to stop large asteroids hitting the earth would be
to use a nuclear missile to either blow it up or use the blast
to move its orbit. How would this work in the vacuum of space?
of using nuclear weapons to blow up an incoming asteroid to save
the Earth has long been a theme of science fiction movies, short
stories and books. However, when the scientists at NASA that were
charged with coming up with a scheme to deal with an incoming
space rock were initially very concerned about the ramifications
of such a strategy. The problem is that many asteroids are not
so much a single large rock as a loose collection of boulders
clinging together based on their slight gravitational attraction
to each other. Scientists were concerned that if an asteroid large
enough to end all life on our planet (say 6.2 miles or 10 kilometers
across or bigger) was hit with a nuclear tipped missile it might
simply fracture into several different pieces, all bound for Earth.
The effect of these separate smaller impacts on Earth might be
even worse than a single large impact.
reason they thought the idea of using something other than nuclear
weapons to nudge the asteroid off course might be the way to go.
For example, using a robot spaceship to push the asteroid onto
a new course. Or having a spaceship fly alongside the asteroid
and use a laser to vaporize bits of the asteroid. The parts that
were vaporized would be turned into gas which would expand and
push the asteroid in the opposite direction. Even painting the
asteroid with a reflective color on one side, so the sunlight
reflected off it (imparting a slight nudge to it) instead of being
absorbed might be enough to change its direction over time.
with all of the above solutions, however, is that they take time.
You would have to know that the asteroid was going to hit Earth
several years in advance for these low power pushes to change
the asteroid's course. If you suddenly learned only a few weeks
in advance that a collision was going to take place, you'd need
to take a more direct approach.
that the most effective way to handle a last minute encounter
with an incoming space rock was employing one or more nuclear
weapons. They considered using surface explosions, delayed surface
explosions, subsurface explosions and standoff explosions. The
best solution was standoff explosions where a nuclear device is
actually not detonated on the asteroid, but at some distance.
The method was deemed the least likely to split the asteroid into
smaller, and perhaps more dangerous, pieces.
as you point out, that shock wave from a nuclear blast can't effectively
cross that vacuum of space, how would such a method work? Well,
the destructive force of a nuke doesn't just come from the shock
wave. It also destroys with heat. If you look at some of the old
atomic test bomb movies where they filmed a house in the path
of a nuclear blast you will see the first thing that arrives at
the building when the device goes off is an intense wave of electromagnetic
radiation, including light (especially infrared light which is
heat). The outside wall of the building starts smoking and catches
on fire. Then a few seconds later the blast wave hits and actually
knocks the building down.
you wouldn't get the blast wave because there isn't any air to
transmit it. However you do get the infrared light and other electromagnetic
radiation. This will vaporize the top layer of the asteroid in
the direction facing the blast. The expanding gas from the vaporization
will push the asteroid off course. Since the vaporization is widely
distributed across the face of the asteroid the push is unlikely
to cause a split.
part of this scheme is if it turns out that one standoff blast
isn't enough, you can immediately try another and another until
you pushed the asteroid far enough in one direction to miss the
Egyptian Lights - I have seen and heard many crackpot
ideas about Egypt and the most absurd to me is the assertion that
they had and used electric lighting. Yes, I know about the Bagdad
Batteries but I already know they don't have enough power to light
a modern LED, much less a normal incandescent lamp. My question
is this... Is there anything found among ancient ruins confirms
that they had access to electricity OTHER than the batteries?
often look at ancients pictures or reliefs and see something that
looks very modern. People have seen rockets, spacesuits and airplanes
in art work thousands of years old. The problem is, of course,
that just because an object looks familiar to our modern eyes,
doesn't mean that that our interpretation is what the ancients'
had in mind when the created the artwork.
the case of electric lights in Egypt two Austrian proponents of
the idea, Reinhard Habeck and Peter Krasa, wrote a whole book
about their theories called, Lights of the Pharaohs based
on some odd looking reliefs. (Unfortunately it appears that it
is no longer in print and can't be found on Amazon). The most
significant of these are found at temple of Hathor at Dendera,
which is about ten miles north of the ruins at Luxor. The relief
shows what appears to be a huge bulb (over six feet long when
compared with the associated human figures) mounted sideways.
Something that vaguely resembles a squiggly filament runs through
the bulb. At the base of the supposed bulb is what might be interpreted
as a cord that connects that "light" to a box, which is apparently
the source of the power.
experimenters have built what they consider to be replicas of
what the relief shows and have actually gotten them to work as
electric lights. But is there any evidence beyond this artwork,
which could be interpreted in several different ways, that what
was being depicted was actually a giant light bulb?
and Krasa argue that one of the reasons that no soot from candles
or oil lamps are found in Egyptian tombs, even though it must
have taken many hours of work in the dark rooms to create the
decorations there, is that the Egyptians used electric lights
to illuminate these areas (a competing theory is that they used
sunlight reflected into the tomb by a system of mirrors).
if you have electric lights, as point out, you need a power source.
Nobody digging in Egypt has ever found anything resembling an
electric generator. No artwork shows the details of such a generator
and no writing supports information about using or building any
kind of generator, either. So we are left with the concept of
mention many of those supporting that idea of ancient lights in
Egypt point to existence of the so-called "Baghdad
Batteries." There is much conflicting opinion on whether these
objects found in Iraq actually are batteries or simply jars. People
have built reconstructions of them and actually gotten them to
produce low voltages. Most of the people that conjecture that
the "Baghdad Batteries" were actually used to create electricity,
however, think that they were used in the process of galvanizing
metals an activity which only requires a very low voltage. One
of these batteries by themselves doesn't nearly produce enough
electricity to power a six foot long lamp (in fact they don't
really produce enough electricity to power a standard flashlight
could make bigger batteries, or hook a bunch together to get more
power, but that causes other problems. Frank Dörnenburg, who did
some experimentation with such a battery, estimated you might
need around 40 of these batteries (with a weight of nearly 200
pounds) to produce enough wattage to run a flashlight bulb.
about 8 hours these primitive batteries will run out of power
and have to be replaced. This also causes additional problems.
In this simple battery design like this iron is a required component.
Iron, however, was extremely rare in Egypt. It would need to be
imported. There is no indication in any of the ancient Egyptian
records of large amounts of iron being transported into the country
to make hundreds of batteries. Nor has anybody found the remains
of the hundreds of thousands of old batteries that would have
accumulated from a single tomb project.
is that Egyptians really didn't need the headache of making all
these batteries to produce a little light. They had a simple lamp
(a wick floating in olive oil) that was easy to build. Why don't
we see soot in the tombs? Well, first of all olive oil burned
in the lamps produces very little soot. Secondly, the tombs are
not actually soot free. In many tombs soot on the ceiling can
be seen. If not from the Egyptians' lamps, then from the candles
and torches of the many people who visited the tombs during the
centuries before the electric light became common in the modern
do the reliefs at Dendera actually show? Most archeologists think
they are a lotus flower, spawning a snake inside, which represents
certain aspects of Egyptian mythology. Their argument is supported
by a close look the object inside the bulb that Habeck and Krasa
claim is a filament. It has eyes and a mouth. Something a snake
has, but a filament doesn't.
more while no Egyptian writings have been found that support the
idea of giant light bulbs, batteries or generators, we do have
records from the Valley of the Kings that show how many wicks
and how much oil were issued to workers for their lamps during
many people argue that the ancient Egypt used the electric light,
the proof is just not there.
Cycle - How do plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen?
plants do of carbon dioxide into the oxygen in the air is part
of the "carbon cycle." Carbon dioxide, which makes up a little
more than 3% of air, is composed of two parts carbon and one part
oxygen. That means a single molecule of it has one carbon atom
attached to two oxygen atoms.
takes the carbon dioxide molecule and splits it apart using energy
from the sun. It keeps the carbon atom, which it wants, and kicks
some of the oxygen out into the atmosphere. The carbon gets combined
with hydrogen (the plant gets its hydrogen from splitting up a
molecule of water - a hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms) The
carbon, the hydrogen and some of the oxygen together make sugar
(twelve hydrogen atoms, six oxygen atoms and six carbon atoms
to be exact). Sugar is, of course food and a major ingredient
and humans, of course, do the opposite of plants. They breathe
in oxygen, eat carbohydrates, and then combine them to make carbon
dioxide. This action of combining these releases the energy (which
the plants originally took from the sun) . We use this energy
to walk, play checkers, ride bikes, write essays on our computers,
it the carbon cycle because plants do one half of the operation
by taking carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing the oxygen,
which is really their waste product. Animals complete the cycle
by taking oxygen back out of the air, eating the plants, getting
energy by combining these and breathing out carbon dioxide (which
is our waste product). The carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere
so that other plants can using it again in a circle of activity.
The whole thing keeps going as long as the plants have sunlight
to split the carbon dioxide apart again.
exactly does a plant do that? The process is called photosynthesis.
Light, of course, is a form of electromagnetic energy. Plants
use a material called chlorophyll which takes the light energy
and creates a series of chemical reactions that spit the carbon
dioxide and water apart and recombine them to make sugar and free
light energy most plants use little solar panels we call leaves.
This is where most of the energy is captured and chemical reactions
is also what makes a plant green. It tends to absorb red and blue
light waves, but reflects the green. Since what we see are the
colors not absorbed, but reflexed, plants appear mostly green
to our eyes. The truth is that scientists aren't really sure why
plants aren't black. It seems like this would be the most efficient
color for a plant as it could absorb all the wavelengths and get
the most energy out of the smallest area. However, as you can
observe by walking through a meadow, most plants are green, not
black, and were not really sure why.
the coolest things about the carbon cycle is that plants are really
making themselves out of thin air. Yes they do get water and some
trace materials from their roots, but the carbon, which makes
up so much of their structure, just comes from the carbon dioxide
in the air
is true when we exercise and lose weight. Our carbs disappears
into the thin air. The food you eat (carbon) is combined with
oxygen and breathed out as carbon dioxide.
probably also mention that photosynthesis isn't limited to just
plants. Algae, and cyanobacteria can do it too. What's more it
isn't the only game in town. Chemotrophs are organisms that obtain
energy by oxidative chemical reactions and don't need sunlight.
An example of these are the bacteria that live in the deep ocean
near hydrothermal vents. It is too dark down there for them to
use photosynthesis, so they get energy by oxidizing iron is dissolved
in the sea water near the hot vents.
Einstein - If you had a pair of scissors sufficiently large
enough, can the tips of the scissors exceed the speed of light?
Einstein published his theories on relativity and stated that
nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, people have
delighted in trying to find a way around this rule. For example,
if you took a flashlight and pointed the beam into space (then
waited for the tip of the beam to get, let's say a light year
away) then suddenly swung the beam across the sky to the opposite
direction you might try to argue that the tip of the beam must
have traveled faster than the speed of light.
the "tip of the beam" is more of an intellectual concept than
an actual thing. The photons that make up the beam keep streaming
out in the straight line you had them pointed in even after you
moved the flashlight and only photos emerging from your flashlight
after you changed its direction would go toward a different point
in the sky. You can picture what is happening with a stream of
water from a garden hose. Point it in one direction, then swing
it in suddenly across your yard. The tip of the stream of water
doesn't move immediately, but lags behind the motion the hose's
example of trying to get around the speed of light is to build
a giant rod between two planets one light year apart. You might
try to get around the limit on information traveling no faster
than the speed of light by pushing the rod on one end as a signal
and expecting the person receiving the signal on the other end
to see the rod on his end to move immediately. If it did, he would
get your signal faster than the speed of light.
here is that though we expect the rod to be perfectly rigid, it
really isn't, especially when dealing with an object that would
be a light year in length. Pushing on rod on one end would compress
it slightly and this compression would move along the rod at no
faster than the speed of light, so your signal would not be received
on the other end for at least a year.
example has similar problems. Like the rod the blades of your
scissors are not going to be perfectly rigid. As you close them
the tips will bend and lag behind the portions of the blades closer
to the scissors fulcrum. If you do manage to get the tips of the
scissors to approach the speed of light you will find that their
mass will grow and grow and you will require more and more energy
to try and close the blades. In fact as the tips get near the
speed of light their mass will near infinity and the energy you
need to close the blades will also approach infinity. Since you
don't have limitless energy, you will never be able to close the
blades fast enough to get the tips to the speed of light (In addition
are also some problems with transmitting the energy to the tips
since we already established the blades aren't perfectly rigid
usually the problem with trying to get anything going at the speed
of light. As you accelerate the object it becomes more and more
massive and eventually there isn't enough energy in the universe
to accelerate it all the way to the speed of light. The only things
that can travel at the speed of light are photons, which have
no rest mass.
you might be able to get around this rule by building a spaceship
the can "warp" space and compress it in front of your ship and
stretch it behind your ship (this is where we get the Star
Trek term "Warp Drive" from). In this scheme your ship wouldn't
actually be exceeding the speed of light, but would simply be
carried ago by a bubble of space. It's a very interesting way
to cheat Einstein, but nobody knows if you could ever make such
a propulsion method actually work.
Steam? - In the movie "Wild Wild West" starring Will Smith
there was a giant Steam powered spider machine: I already know
it was just a special effect but I would still like to know this...
Aside from steam-powered ships and locomotives, what is the largest
steam-powered vehicle ever made? - David R
is a tough question. The best I might be able to do is to suggest
a couple of big steam machines that move and see if any of our
readers can think of anything bigger.
question implied steamships and locomotives were some of the most
powerful and heavy objects ever moved by steam. Other devices
were relatively light. One of the reasons for this is that steam
engines, especially those built in the 19th century, didn't generate
a lot of horsepower for the weight of the engine compared to later
internal combustion engines. This was fine if what you needed
was a stationary source of power. You could just build your steam
engine as large as you needed, since it wasn't going anywhere.
example of a large stationary steam engine was the Corliss Steam
Engine built for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in
1876. It generated 1,400HP and powered virtually all of the exhibits.
Though there would be more powerful engines ( The Ellenroad Ring
Mill Engine built in 1917 could produce almost 3000HP) the Centennial
engine was well-known and became an icon of the era of steam.
It wasn't small, however, and stood 45 feet tall with a 30 foot
diameter flywheel. Hardly portable.
heavy engine needs to be mounted on something big to be movable
which is why powerful steam engines worked so well with ships.
One of the biggest of these was the SS United States, an ocean
liner launched in 1952 that could develop 240,000HP. It still
holds the record for the fastest commercial crossing of the Atlantic.
also a natural place to use steam because the steel tracks and
well-built roadbeds would support a lot of weight for a big locomotive.
The largest of these was probably the 1941 Union Pacific Railroad's
4000-class nicknamed "Big Boy" which could generate at least 6,000HP.
However, all that weight came with a price. This monster weighted
over a million pounds when you included the tender, so it needed
the firm footing provided by a track bed to avoid sinking into
to your question: What the biggest steam machine that moves that
isn't a loco or a ship? Certainly steam-traction engines might
be a possibility. These were steam powered tractors that were
popular before gas and diesel tractors became available. Even
heavier were steam-rollers which were basically steam traction
engines built with big fat wheels used to flatten roadbeds.
for a really big and heavy steam machine we need to go back to
your inspiration: The Wild, Wild West film from 1999. I'm not
thinking about the huge mechanical spider shown in the climax,
but the steam powered tank from earlier in the movie.
were indeed a few attempts to build steam powered tanks in the
early 20th century. In 1916 or 1917 a company named Holt built
a "Three Wheeled Steam Tank" that was tested at the Aberdeen Proving
Ground in Maryland. The monster weighed about 17 tons, so it was
probably heavier than most traction engines, but only developed
about 150HP, so it was pretty under powered. According to reports
it easily became stuck in the mud during testing.
tank-like device was a contraption built by the Army Corps of
Engineers in conjunction with Stanley Steamer in 1918. This guy
weighed in at 50 tons (around twice as heavy as the other tanks
of the era) and had two engines totaling 1,000HP to drive it forward
at a maximum speed of 6 mph. This machine was armed with a flamethrower
on a turret (which makes me think of the tank from the James Bond
film "Dr. No") and four .30 caliber machine guns. Apparently a
prototype, christened "America," was shipped to France at the
end of World War I, but arrived too late to see any action.
steam was chosen as the source of power because internal combustion
engines of the time couldn't generate enough force to really get
something this heavy moving (The 26 ton British tanks of the time
used a 105HP engine that could only move them forward at about
3 ˝ mph). Steam perhaps isn't the best source of energy for this
type of project, however. Working next to a hot boiler in a windowless
tank must be awful and there is always the chance of a steam explosion
it the machine is pierced by even a small round.
anybody think of a bigger steam-powered machine that would qualify
as a vehicle? If so, drop us a line and we'll feature a column
Falling from the Sky: I've read a lot about sky falls...
where things like fish fall from the sky. In Honduras, over 10,000
fish fall from the sky at the beginning of rain season. It is
only in one village and my friend from Honduras won't believe
me. I tell her that she didn't live in that village and that it
DOES happen in another village. Am I right?- Cocobean
(Nothing to do with the most recent 007 thriller, I'm afraid)
are some of the most puzzling of anomalous phenomena. The list
of things that fall from the sky that don't really belong there
are endless: fish, frogs, snakes, alligators, salamanders, turtles,
lizards, worms, grain, straw, leaves, seeds, slime, stones, hazelnuts
along with other items too numerous for me to list here. Even
things might belong in the sky often come down in very odd ways:
blue ice, and blood red rain are a couple of examples.
of these events, especially since the invention of the airplane,
can be explained easily. Blue ice may well be the result of a
leak from an airliner's potty tank. However records of many of
these events go back way before the invention of the airplane
(for example a large fish fall in India in 1830) and even today
some of the falls are of such size and duration as to make it
unlikely the source was an aircraft.
wisdom is that a storm or waterspout pick up these objects and
deposit them in another location. The problem with this theory
is that most falls from the sky are highly selective in their
type. For example, if a storm scooped up the contents o f a pond
and dropped it a few miles away you might expect that you would
get a mixture of fish, frogs and water plants. You also might
expect that the fall would last a short time, or be scattered
randomly over a large area. That is not always the case however.
Let's look at a few examples:
of 1922 thousand of young toads (no fish - no old toads) fell
- for two days - on the town of Chalon-sur-Saone in France.
In 1947 near the town of Marksville, Louisiana, fish fell for
an hour onto a strip of land just 75 feet wide and one-thousand
also expect that if a storm were the cause, then the objects that
fell might be from the local area. In the case of the Marksville
fish, however, a biologist determined they were of a species that
didn't live in the local waters. And a scientist observing a fall
on the South Pacific island of Guam in 1936 noted that some of
the fish that fell there appeared to be tench (Tinca tinca)
which are thought to live only in the fresh waters of Europe.
one of the strangest things to fall from the sky is money. In
May of 1982 near the Churchyard of St. Elisabeth in Redding, England,
a local candy store owner informed the Rev. Graham Marshall that
children had been coming in a buying candy in large amounts. He
was concerned that perhaps they'd raided the church poor box.
No money was missing from there, so the Reverend spoke to the
children involved. Apparently they heard the money fall and tinkle
on the sidewalk in the churchyard. Marshall decided to conduct
his own investigation and came to the conclusion that the coins
must be falling from a great height as some were embed edgewise
in the ground, an effect he couldn't reproduce by just tossing
coins in the air or even throwing them down with some force. In
this case there were no storms in the area or tall buildings nearby.
storms don't seem to explain many of the falls, people have come
up with some wild theories about might cause this phenomenon.
In the 1950's UFO enthusiast Morris K. Jessup suggested such things
like fish falls were the result of flying saucers dumping their
hydroponic tanks. Others have suggested that these events are
a product of teleportation - the instantaneous transportation
of objects from one place to another. Others have suggested channels
that somehow open to another parallel universe are responsible.
is as much as the storm theory seems inadequate to explain many
sky fall events, most of the alternative theories are wanting
also. The simple truth is that nobody had come up with a mechanism
that explains all cases of objects falling from the sky. More
likely it isn't a single mechanism anyway, but several different
your friend's skepticism about such falls, they clearly do occur
and thousands of incidents have been reported throughout the years.
As for exactly why they occur, well on that subject the jury is
Can't We Drink Seawater? - Why is it not ok to drink sea
water, but ok to put sea salt on our food? - John
one of the things your body really needs to function. Without
it you wouldn't be unable to maintain the proper fluid balance
in your blood cells. It's also essential to transmit information
through your nerves and muscles. Finally, it is also used in the
absorption of certain nutrients from your small intestines.
as we need a little salt (like the small amounts that you sprinkle
on your hamburger), too much of it is a really big problem. It
can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, and brain damage. And as
your kidneys get over worked by trying to remove the excess salt
from your system they can overload and shutdown leading to sure
is that the amount of salt in your blood stream must be kept very
close to 0.9%. The amount in seawater, however, is around 3.5%.
If you try and drink seawater the amount of salt in your blood
rises closer to that of the seawater and your body desperately
tries to get rid of it. Water flows out of your cells to dilute
the salt in your blood, making the cells dehydrate. Your kidneys
work to remove the salt from your system, but your kidneys can
only concentrate salt into your urine at a level less than the
3.5% in the seawater. Therefore it takes more water to get the
salt out of your system, than you originally got from drinking
the brine. Instead of quenching your thirst the seawater accelerates
seawater in small amounts (say accidently gulping some while swimming
in the ocean) isn't really dangerous as long as you had enough
fresh water to avoid dehydration. If you are stranded at sea in
a lifeboat, however, and you can't get any fresh water, drinking
seawater to get rid of your thirst will kill you after a while.
are some reports that sailors short on fresh water have been successful
in stretching their supplies by mixing it with saltwater. Adventurer
Thor Heyerdahl reported drinking seawater in a 40/60% ratio without
a problem during his famous Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific
Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands in 1947. However,
unless you are extremely desperate, such a course of action seems
our blood seems to contain the same proportions of minerals
and salts as there is in seawater, just at a lower level. This
has led some scientists to speculate that blood developed in our
distant, distant ancestors from a more diluted form of seawater
that existed in prehistoric times. In fact, seawater, diluted
so that the salt level is the same as that found in blood, has
been successfully used as a replacement for blood plasma.
- Since scientists are able to teleport light particles,
could we use this teleportation method to travel in space rather
than a propulsion based rockets? - Christal
talk about teleportation what most people think about is Star
Trek. In this 1960's SciFi classic (as well as in the new
movie reboots) Captain Kirk was able to hop onto a little pad
and Scotty would beam him down from the Enterprise to the planet
below in a couple of seconds. This allowed the Captain to avoid
the trouble of climbing into a small "shuttlecraft" and to take
an hour or so ride down to reach the surface. (More importantly
it saved the show's producers money and kept the pace of the story
is probably the one most people think about when they hear that
scientists are teleporting photons (bits of energy) around: A
photon gets plopped onto a pad on one side of the lab, a switch
is thrown and the same photon suddenly appears on the other side
of the lab.
quite what is happening, however. What the scientists are teleporting
are the physical properties of the photon, not the photon itself.
They exploit quantum mechanics (specifically something called
"entanglement") to "read" the photon and transmit the properties
to another photon on the other side of the lab and give it the
same state as the original. Since you can't tell the replica apart
from the original (whose state was destroyed in the process) for
all practical purposes the photon has been "teleported."
able to do this is a very powerful technique that can be used
in quantum computing and we will probably eventually get ultrafast
computers out of it. However, it isn't clear that the same process
could be used for transporting solid objects. Scientists have
been able to teleport a single atom, but a human consists of about
a trillion, trillion atoms, which makes the problem of teleporting
them about a trillion, trillion times more difficult. Some scientists
think we might be able to pull off teleporting something as complicated
as a virus by the end of the century, but even that may just be
we were actually able to teleport a human, it would raise some
interesting ethical questions. If a teleport machine works not
by moving the actual atoms that make up a person, but just recreating
the person's structure with new atoms, have we transported the
person or just made a duplicate? (The duplicate would think it
was the original because it would have all the same thoughts and
memories.) Also, if the original person is destroyed in the process,
have we just murdered him, despite creating a duplicate in another
that you could switch out all the atoms in a person and still
have the same person isn't just a hypothetical situation either.
Studies at the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center found that 98%
of the atoms in our body are replaced with new ones each year.
So in essence we are all undergoing a slow teleportation and getting
new bodies (though the structure still remains the same, so we
still age - sorry). This raises an interesting question however.
Are we actually the same people we were a year ago, or just duplicates
with all the same memories?
are also some theological concerns with teleportation too. Some
people believe that humans have a "spirit." If a person we teleported,
would that "spirit" automatically jump to the duplicate person?
suppose that the original person wasn't destroyed and you wound
up with two of them? Who is the original if both of them are exactly
the same? Which one gets to go home to their spouse and kids?
interesting SciFi fiction on this dilemma check out Think Like
a Dinosaur a novelette written by James Patrick Kelly and
later turned into an episode on the seventh season of The Outer
Limits (2000). It available to watch on Hulu for free.
Extraterrestrial Astronomers See Us? - If an alien being
with a telescope from an exoplanet looks at our solar system,
would they detect our planets using the methods we use or would
they see a "fuzzy" nebula looking orb due to the Oort cloud? -Rowell
first do a quick review about how scientists can detect planets
around distant stars. Just pointing a powerful telescope at a
star system and trying to pick out the planets going around it
generally doesn't work. The star itself is too bright and outshines
any planets it has (perhaps by a factor of a million to one).
Also at the interstellar distances we are talking unless the planets
are very large and hot they are generally too small for even the
most power telescopes to find.
productive way of discovering new stars is by indirect methods.
One of these is to measure the light coming from the parent star
and watch for tiny shifts in the wave lengths. As planets move
around a star their gravity can cause it to "wobble" a bit and
this causes the wavelength of its light to shift because of the
Doppler Effect. By observing a star long enough and recording
the size, timing and length of the shifts scientists can estimate
the number planets and how far they are from the star, although
it is difficult to tell exactly how big those planets are.
most productive method to find exoplanets is to watch the slight
dimming of the star as the planets pass between it and telescopes
on Earth. With this method scientists can detect the number of
planets, how far away they are from their star and even estimate
their size. Occasionally they can even use a spectroscope to detect
what their atmosphere might be like. The only problem with this
method is that it only works on star systems which are oriented
in such a way that at least one of the planets transits its star
as seen from Earth.
are other methods to detect exoplanets, but let's talk about how
an Oort cloud would affect these two approaches.
let's first talk about what the Oort cloud is. In the 1950's Jan
Hendrik Oort speculated that out beyond the orbit of Neptune there
was a large number of comets that might extend as far out from
the sun as 3 light years. Subsequent observations proved this
true and the cloud was named for him. However it isn't a cloud
in the normal sense we would think of when we look at clouds in
the sky. The density is very low. The only parts of it we can
detect are the few comets that occasionally leave the cloud and
make a passage into the inner solar system. The rest of the cloud
is too thin and dim for us to detect with our current instruments.
it is so thin it doesn't interfere with our ability to look at
the stars beyond or use the above methods to find planets around
those stars. By the same token astronomers on distance stars would
not have any problem with using these same methods to detect planets
in our solar system. The Oort cloud is too thin to block their
observations. It is also very likely that the solar systems we
have found so far have their own versions of an Oort cloud and
these don't seem to hinder our observations.
or Virus? - Is there a difference between a germ
and a virus? - John
use the dictionary the pertinent definition for the word "germ"
is "microorganism" (Especially a microorganism that causes illness).
A microorganism is a microscopic, living organism often composed
of one or just a few cells. Bacteria like Vibrio cholera,
which causes Cholera would fall into this category. Also a fungus
like Trichophyton rubrum, which causes athletes foot would
also quality, as would a protozoa like the Entamoeba histolytica
amoeba which causes a type of dysentery.
a virus is not exactly the same thing as germ which includes all
these other types of organisms. However, you could argue that
a virus, like a bacteria, or a protozoa is a type of germ.
a virus be considered a germ? There are certainly microscopic
and many varieties of them can make us sick. But does a virus
qualify as a microscopic living organism? Well, the problem is
that not all scientists can agree that viruses are actually alive.
Generally for something to be living in scientific terms it needs
to have seven different properties. One of the most important
of these properties is the ability to reproduce. All the microorganisms
we named above, bacteria, fungus, protozoa (and a few we didn't
list) can reproduce themselves. A virus can certainly reproduce
too, but only by invading the body of a living host cell and stealing
the use of its reproduction machinery.
reason the scientific community has gone back and forth on this
issue whether viruses are alive for many years. Some scientists
make the case for viruses being living things, others argue that
they are not.
19th century when viruses where first identified by scientists
they figured that they must be the most diminutive members of
the family of life. They clearly seemed to act like bacteria,
but they were just much, much smaller.
until 1935 that a researcher named Wendell M. Stanley was able
to crystallize the tobacco mosaic virus and take a close look
at it. Stanley realized that though the virus contained complex
biochemicals it couldn't carry out the normal metabolic functions
that most living organisms did. Since metabolism (which is the
chemical reactions necessary to sustain life) is one of the seven
qualities of a living organism, Stanley made the case the viruses
were simply inert chemicals.
scientists are comfortable with this however, and argue that viruses
really span the region between the living and the non-living.
Alone they are just packages of inert chemicals. When they enter
a cell, however, suddenly they take on many of the characteristics
of a living organism. A few researchers like to compare virus
to vampires: like the legendary nosferatu viruses are dead, unless
they use living cells and drain them of their energy.
a virus a germ? The truth is you can make the case that it is
or it not depending on your whether you think viruses are alive.
Through the Earth - If it were possible to shoot an unstoppable,
elevator-sized cannonball vertically into the ground (let's say
at the North Pole), it would speed all way out from South Pole.
Good. So what if a man decides to make a quick trip to South Pole(from
the North Pole) by way of jumping into the hole created, would
he defy gravity by surfacing from South Pole's ice (probably continuing
into space)? - Cheta Anuonye
start by saying that this scenario, having a tunnel go from the
North Pole to the South Pole is a great thought experiment, but
wouldn't really work in reality. Since the core of Earth is molten
and semi- molten rock the tunnel that you made below a certain
depth would quickly close up as the rock flowed back into position.
say that this isn't a problem and you can actually build a shaft
for a distance of 7926 miles from pole to pole, then you jump
down into it. What would happen?
of course you would start by falling. But let's back up and figure
out why that occurs. The answer is that gravity pulls you downwards.
But where does the gravity come from?
is a force in nature that pulls all matter together. It is the
weakest of the basic forces in nature, but also the most tenacious.
(If you doubt this, just think about what happens when you use
a small magnet to pick up a paperclip. The magnet is tiny when
compared to the Earth, yet the magnetic force it has overpowers
the entire gravity force of the earth to pull the paperclip away
from it. However, the magnetic force does not have the range of
gravity and the magnet can only pick up the paperclip if they
are very close together).
you are reading this gravity is pulling your body toward the computer
(or cell phone, or tablet depending on what you are using) while
your body pulls the computer toward it. However with small objects
like this the force of gravity is so low that you can't feel it.
It takes a really big object (like planet earth) to create a significant
gravity force. The amount of the force is directly the result
the mass of the object, so since the moon is only 1/6 the mass
of Earth, the gravity of the moon is only 1/6 what it is here
on Earth (If you weigh 120 pounds here on Earth you would weight
only 20 pounds on the moon).
mass of the Earth creates gravity. Let's say that you jump into
your tunnel at the North Pole. You are pulled down toward the
center of the Earth. As you got closer and closer to the center,
however, more and more of the Earth's mass would be above you
and less and less below you. The mass above you would start to
pull you up, while the mass below continues to pull you down.
When you found yourself at the exact center of the planet, with
all the mass of it around you equally in all directions, the gravity
would cancel out and you would be weightless.
by the time you reached the center of the Earth you would have
so much speed you would go shooting right though the zero gravity
section. As you continued on more and more of the Earth's mass
would be behind you, slowing your speed down. Eventually you would
stop before you reached the surface and reverse direction.
you would be doomed to spend the rest of your life oscillating
back and forth in the tunnel, losing a little speed to air friction
as you made each trip until you eventually got stuck at the center
of the planet in the zero gravity area.
a Jump - Can a person survive a dive into water from five
from personal experience on my summer vacation, I can tell you
that you can dive into a river from 2 and ˝ stories up (25 feet)
and suffer no ill effects. In fact, Olympic style diving is typically
done from a 33 foot platform (3 stories) with no problems. Finally,
cliff divers in Acapulco, Mexico jump from 136 feet (13.5 stories),
head first (using their hands to break the water), into the sea
on a daily basis. So a five story (50 foot) dive into water is
about heights of 15 stories and above? The higher you get the
more critical the position you enter the water becomes. A study
by Dr. Richard Snyder of people who jumped or fell off the Golden
Gate Bridge found you had the best chance of living through it
if you hit the water vertically, feet first. The roadway of the
Golden Gate Bridge is around 250 feet above the water, about 25
stories. It has become a magnet for people who want to do themselves
in by jumping off the bridge. Some die from the impact, others
drown in the bay, but a few people do live to tell the tale. These
people went in feet first in a vertical position.
didn't make it was a stunt diver called Kid Courage. He went off
the bridge in 1980, but landed on his back and suffered fatal
internal injuries. He was dead when the pulled him from the water.
put the outside limit on survival of a fall into water at around
260 feet. By then a human body has usually reached a speed of
greater than 80 miles per hour and hitting even a liquid at that
speed is a huge shock.
there are rare reports of people who have fallen into water from
great heights and survived. In June 1963 Marine pilot Cliff Judkins
was forced to bail out of his F-8 Crusader at 15,000 feet and
his parachute failed to open. It is likely he hit the ocean at
nearly the human terminal velocity of 120mph, but survived despite
huge odds against it.
and Cold - Is cold the absence of heat? Or is heat the
absence cold? - John
you first look at this question it sounds a little bit like a
riddle: Which came first the chicken or the egg? We need to first
understand what heat and cold is before we can get to the bottom
of this riddle however.
physics point of view heat is simply the exchange of thermal energy
from one object to another. Now you might ask "What is thermal
energy?" Thermal energy at the smallest scale is the movement
(mostly vibration) of the particles that make up matter: Atoms
and molecules and the things they are composed of - protons, electrons
and neutrons. The more movement these particles have, the higher
the temperature of the object they are in will be. At a certain
point if the particles are bumping around fast enough the object
will actually change form.
look at water. When the particles aren't moving much water can
take a solid form: ice. As the thermal energy increases the water
molecules eventually bounce around so much that they reach a point
where they break away from the solid form and flow freely by becoming
liquid water. If the temperature of the water continues to rise
the molecules will eventually be jumping around so much that they
can't even stay in liquid from and become a gas: steam.
the transfer of that thermal energy from object to object. For
example, when you hold an ice cube in your hand you are heating
it because the thermal energy in your hand is higher than the
thermal energy in the cube and the energy flows from one to the
other. Thermal energy always seeks an equilibrium when it can
find it. Just like water will flow from a full container to an
empty container if there is a connection between the two until
the levels in both are equal. The result is the ice cube starts
to melt as its thermal energy rises and your hand starts to feel
cold as the thermal energy in it drops.
go back to the original question: " Is cold the absence of heat?
Or is heat the absence cold?" Well, since heat is the transfer
of thermal energy and cold can be defined as an area of low thermal
energy I think you can make an argument for the first case. Cold
is an area of low thermal energy which hasn't gotten a transfer
of energy (heat - which is absent in this scenario) from another
location with a higher amount of thermal energy.
Wonders - I've always been curious about the possibility
of wormholes in space. If a wormhole existed, how would it affect
space travel? - Anonymous.
start by defining what a wormhole is for those people not familiar
with the term. Way back in 1957 theoretical physicist John Archibald
Wheeler coined the term to describe a theoretical shortcut between
two distant parts of the universe. If you think of the universe
as a flat sheet of paper it might be possible to fold the paper
over on itself so the rear surfaces touch. A hole poked through
the sheet at that point would create a way to travel between two
distant areas quickly.
the universe is not flat and two dimensional, like the sheet of
paper, this example does give us a way to visualize how it would
work. The existence of a type of wormhole that could do this called
an Einstein-Rosen bridge was first suggested by Albert Einstein
and his colleague Nathan Rosen in 1935. Wheeler later showed that
this particular type of wormhole would not be stable long enough
before it collapsed for anything, even a photon, to get through
physicist Kip Thorne, however, proposed that you could build a
wormhole that would be stable using exotic matter that would have
an anti-gravitational effect that would force the wormhole to
remain open (Such a wormhole that stays open so things can go
through it is known as a traversable wormhole).
wormholes have become a favorite of science-fiction writers who
need to find a mechanism to move spaceships from one location
to another across the vast distances of interstellar space in
less than a human lifetime. In fact, it was Carl Sagan, the astronomer
who wrote the bestseller Contact (later made into a movie)
who need such a plot device and pushed Thorne into devising his
scheme using exotic matter. A naturally occurring wormhole was
also made a part of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine
which made it possible for the characters to travel to a distance
part of the galaxy in the blink of an eye.
a wormhole could be used not just to link to parts of the same
universe however, but also two completely different universes.
the strangest thing possible to do with a wormhole is to turn
it into a time machine. According to Einstein's theory of relativity
anything that is accelerated is subject to time dilation. In other
words time slows down for it. While the effect of this is too
tiny for us to notice when we take a transcontinental flight,
if you were able to fly a spaceship to another star and back again
at near the speed of light, you would find that something like
a year had passed for you on board the spaceship, but ten years
had passed for those who stayed home on planet Earth.
could create a wormhole and leave one end on Earth and take the
other with you on that spaceship the end left at home would age
more than the one that you took with you. This difference would
mean that anything that entered that mouth of the wormhole on
the older end would emerge at the young end in the past (though
it would be impossible to go back further in time than when the
wormhole had been created).
could build wormholes could we use them for interstellar travel
like in the movies? Yes. We could even use them to travel into
the past. Here's the bad news, however. Nobody has ever observed
a naturally occurring wormhole and building them seems well beyond
our engineering capability for the foreseeable future. Indeed
it might not be possible at all. It isn't even known if the type
of exotic matter required for Thorne's wormhole even exists.
despair, however. When Einstein first came up with the concept
of a black hole it was thought to be just a theoretical concept
not actually occurring in nature. Now we have pretty good evidence
that black holes actually exist and may explain many of the things
we observe in the universe.
we haven't seen any wormholes, it hasn't stopped scientists from
imagining what a wormhole would look-like if we could build one.
They suggest it might look like a mirrored sphere, except instead
of reflecting our world it would actually be showing the location
at the other side of the hole. Here's a link to some videos that
researchers at Tübingen University created to show what a wormhole
would look like that connected their campus to a beach in France.
Try it out!
Majestic 12- I have often read about the Roswell Incident.
Supposedly a strange UFO crashed on a ranch outside Roswell in
1947… I've also heard that none of this seemed to come to light
until the 60's or 70's due to some strange documents that turned
up, and everyone had bought the government's explanation up till
that point. - Michael
that you are referring to are supposed to be related to secret
group of scientists, military leaders, and government officials
that were authorized to investigate UFOs. Supposedly this group,
the "Majestic 12" (or MJ-12 for short), was established by order
of then President Harry S. Truman on September 24, 1947.
surfaced in 1984 after having been sent to TV producer and UFO
enthusiast Jaime Shandera in a brown paper envelope encoded on
a roll of 35mm film. One of the items on the film was an eight
page, official- looking document that gave a briefing to President-elect
Dwight Eisenhower about the recovery of the remains of two crashed
spaceships, with alien bodies, by government agents during the
also supposedly included a memo from President Harry Truman that
gave MJ-12 the power to investigate the Roswell situation. The
members of this secret group were allegedly Adm. Roscoe H. Hillenkoeter,
Dr. Vannevar Bush, Secretary James Forrestal, Gen. Nathan F. Twining,
Gen. Hoyt S. Vanderberg, Dr. Detlev Bronk, Dr. Jerome Hunsaker,
Mr. Sidney W. Souers, Mr. Gordon Gray, Dr. Donald Menzel, Gen.
Robert M. Montegue, and Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner. All of these men
had died by the time the documents came out in '84, so none of
them were around to comment on the authenticity of the material.
was suspicious that the documents might not be real and sat on
them. If they were real it would be a tremendous news scoop and
would prove just what the UFO conspiracy people had been saying
for years: That the U.S. government had been hiding the truth
about extra-terrestrials on earth. If the papers turned out to
be fakes, however, he would be a laughing stock. Without good
proof one way or the other, Shandera decided not to go public.
Several years later a copy of the film was given to British UFO
researcher Timothy Good who was working on a book called Above
Top Secret (1987). Good was a little less cautious and decided
go public with it. This lead to an article about the documents
in the newspaper The Observer in May of 1987. After that
Shandera decided also to admit that he had copies of the papers,
UFO skeptic Philip Klass urged the FBI to look in to the matter.
They decided to investigate under the premise that if the documents
were indeed real, U.S. law had been broken in their release. The
FBI, however, quickly came to the conclusion that the material
was "completely bogus."
split the UFO research community into two groups. Those arguing
against the authenticity of the documents pointed out various
problems with them: wrong formats, wrong type face, shaky providence
, etc. (For example several documents from the 40's seemed to
have been typed on a IBM 72, which dates from 1961).
who believe that the MJ-12 documents were real also found some
justification for their thinking: For example, a memo entitled
"NSC/MJ-12 Special Studies Project" from July 14, 1954 that apparently
refers to the "Majestic 12" group was found in the National Archives.
While this document might have been faked it, it would have been
hard to insert it into the official governmental records.
involved in researching UFO seemed to have come to the conclusion
that the documents are indeed false. However, a minority still
argue that they are real. Among those people who think they are
false, however, there are those that think that they were part
of a deliberate "disinformation" campaign by the government designed
to discredit the idea of UFO's and extra-terrestrials. They support
this claim by observing that the hoaxer apparently had access
to a number of obscure, but clearly real government documents.
If M-12 was disinformation from the government, just what, they
ask, was the Uncle Sam trying to hide?
a Unified Field Theory possible within our lifetime or will quantum
weirdness muddle the whole thing up? - Taziniquejz
let's start by defining what a "Unified Field Theory" is for those
readers who might not be familiar with the term. There are four
known fundamental forces in the universe: Gravity, Electromagnetism,
the Strong Nuclear Force and the Weak Nuclear Force.
The first two most people are familiar with from every day experiences,
but the second two are very short range and only work at sub-at
atomic distances so we don't see much of them in everyday life.
(However if they didn't exist atoms would fly apart and the universe
would be very different). In any case, since the 19th century
physicists have been trying to build a single theory that integrates
together the fields of all these forces. There was good reason
to try this as they'd had some success in the past. For example,
in the 1800's James Clerk Maxwell was able to take the electrical
force and integrate it with magnetism to make electromagnetism.
Einstein, after finishing his General Theory of Relativity
(which explains how gravity works) spent pretty much the rest
of his life trying to combine gravity with the rest of the forces,
but without much success. One of his problems with his approach
was that he attempted use classical physics to do it.
question suggests some people think quantum physics throws a monkey
wrench into the process of creating a Unified Field Theory. Quantum
physics is different than classical physics in the nothing is
deterministic, only probabilistic (For example you cannot precisely
determine were a sub-atomic particle like a photon will be, only
were it probably will be). This tended to bother a lot of people,
including Einstein who famously said, "God doesn't play dice with
the Universe." Einstein, though he helped found quantum physics,
was never really comfortable with it and hoped to find a deterministic/classical
theory hidden beneath it.
there are still a few scientists that hope to find a Unified Field
Theory in classical physics, most of them now think that it will
actually come out of quantum physics. Much work has been done
in this area and it looks like the electromagnetic force
can be successfully combined with the weak force to make
what's called the "electroweak interaction." In addition the strong
force also fits well into the Standard Physics Model laid out
in quantum physics.
man out is gravity. The particles that make these forces work
have been found for the rest of the forces (for example, in the
case of electromagnetism the particle is the photon), but not
for gravity. The suspected particle here has been given the provisional
name "graviton" but currently our laboratory experiments are not
sophisticated enough to detect such a particle, so it still remains
theory of quantum gravity can be found (and proved to be corrrect)
we should be well on our way to finally having something that
looks like a Unified Field Theory. Scientists are working on several
approaches to this. The most popular one is String Theory
(which comes in a multitude of various versions). String theory
says that all matter is made up of incredibly tiny strings of
vibrating energy and the different vibrations produce different
particles, like the photon and the electron.
think that this may be the final theory of everything and find
the math in it quite elegant. However, it is nearly impossible
to actually test any version of string theory in a laboratory
because the vast amounts of power required to crack open matter
to look for the strings is not something with can generate and
control today. This lack of a testable hypothesis, according to
string theory critics, makes it more of a religion than a science.
be able to resolve this problem in our lifetime? It's hard to
say. Einstein thought that he might have a Unified Theory by the
end of his life, but that was over half a century ago and we are
still working on it. On the other hand sometimes you can go from
theory to experimental results unexpectedly quickly. When John
Stewart Bell came up with his theorem ("Bell's Theorem") in 1964
he didn't think it would be possible to actually test it with
an actual experiment for decades, if ever. Yet, within five years
the first lab tests were being run. So who knows? Perhaps there
is clever, young physicist out there with an unconventional idea
about how to test string theory. If so, a Unified Theory, verified
by experiment, might be right around the corner.
Kitchen - Is it true that granite countertops give off
radiation? - John
has become an increasingly popular surface for countertops in
the last decade. It very hard and won't easily chip. It's heat
resistant so you can take something right out of the oven and
place it on the surface without worrying about damaging it. It
also comes in a large variety of natural colors that won't fade
As a natural
stone however, some granite can have uranium and /or thorium in
it. These elements are naturally radioactive and uranium also
emits radon gas (which is also radioactive) as it decays.
should note that we are all exposed to low levels of radiation
every day from many sources like the dirt under our feet, ceramic
tile, plant fertilizer and cosmic rays from outer space. Even
the smoke detectors that guard our house from fire give off a
tiny bit of radiation.
radiation" is so low it isn't usually considered dangerous, however.
For example, the risk of being killed in a fire is many times
higher than the risk from the tiny amount of radiation given off
by smoke detectors, so you wouldn't want to remove the smoke detectors
from your house.
gives at least a little bit of radiation, though not enough to
be considered dangerous. Occasionally, however, a piece of granite
used in countertops has been found to give off radiation at much
higher levels than just background. It is thought this is more
likely with exotic types of granite from places like Brazil and
Namibia. Even with this higher radiation, however, it would take
many, many hours of direct contact material before the radiation
coming from it would be considered a real health threat. Of more
concern would be breathing any radon gas given off by the granite.
The EPA recommends that all houses be checked for radon gas. Such
a check would find not only radon gas from countertops, but also
gas from other building materials and from radon seeping in from
soil underground (which is a much more likely source of the problem).
by the Health Physics Society concluded that no action needs to
be taken to remove granite countertops in existing homes, but
if there is a concern a test for radon should be done following
EPA recommended protocols. If the level is high it is a lot easier
and cheaper to remove the radon from the air via ventilation than
getting rid of the countertop. A radon gas test can be done for
less than $20.
are still concerned about your granite countertops giving off
direct radiation you can have them tested, but it will cost you
between $100 and $300 to have it done.
Movie Myth - Tell me something about the Kraken beast of
the time of Zeus - Ajiboye
actually comes not from Greek legends, but from Scandinavian lore.
It is a large, many armed creature like a giant octopus or squid.
Early stories describe the beast to be as large as an island.
has gotten mixed up with Greek mythology through the 1981 film
Clash of the Titans (It also appears in the 2010 remake
of the film). Clash of the Titans is loosely based on the Greek
mythical story of Perseus. At one point in the story the Gods
punish the King of Argos by sending the Kraken, which they refer
to as the "Last of the Titans," to create a Tsunami that swamps
the city. (This scene inspired the infamous quote favored by movie
geeks "Release the Kraken!")
in film the heroine, Princess Andromeda, is to be sacrificed to
the Kraken in an attempt to save her own city of Joppa. In the
myth the sea monster involved in the story was actually referred
to as a Cetus. The cetus was probably not an octopus-like creature,
but more whale-like in nature as we get our modern word cetacean
from it. It might also be related to the word cetea which in Greek
art was depicted as serpentine-like fish.
to the Kraken as a "Titan" was an incorrect use of the Greek term.
The Titans were early Gods, not oversized monsters. The King of
the Titans, Cronus, was overthrown by his son, Zeus, who became
the king of the Olympian Gods.
version of Clash of the Titans was the last film made by
famed special effects expert Ray Harryhausen and he co-produced
the film with his long-time associate Charles H. Schneer. Harryhausen
sculpted the Kraken puppet used in the production and it resembles
another of his creations, the Venusian Ymir, from one of his earlier
films, 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). The Kraken puppet
also has multiple arms, however, similar to the octopus beast
Harryhausen made for It Came from Beneath the Sea in 1955.
mythical monster the Greeks had to a Kraken might have been Scylla.
It supposedly had four eyes, six long necks with heads equipped
with sharp teeth, and twelve tentacle-like legs. It lived on the
edge of a strait and would attack ships sailing by. In Homer's
Odyssey, Odysseus is forced to pass by the Scylla and loses 6
sailors to it, one to each head.
of Gravity - If all matter has gravity, does that not mean
that matter is giving off energy? - John
and energy can get intertwined, but they are not the same thing.
Perhaps we should start with talking about what gravity actually
theory of relativity says that gravity is the curvature of space
due to the presence of mass or energy. The classic illustration
of this is picturing space as a sheet of rubber stretched tightly
across a frame. Now imagine a large bowling ball plopped into
the middle of the sheet. It sinks into the rubber creating a depression.
In the same way objects with mass, like the Earth, deform space.
If you were to roll a ping pong ball across the rubber sheet so
it just grazed the depression, it would wind up swinging around
and around the bowling ball, getting closer and closer, as it
lost speed. This is very similar to what can happen with an asteroid
caught in Earth's gravity. It can start orbiting the Earth closer
and closer until it finally crashes to the ground or is burned
up in the atmosphere.
including the Earth, warp space around them. This warping
of space creates gravity.
shows us that the Earth doesn't really "pull" anything toward
it, the object simply follows a path though the fabric of space
which has been warped by the presence of something very heavy.
(It would be more accurate to say the space is pushing the asteroid
making its path curve). The Earth doesn't expend any energy in
this process just like the bowling ball doesn't spend energy to
pull the ping pong ball towards it.
doesn't mean that most matter doesn't radiate energy. For example,
most objects if they have a temperature greater then absolute
zero will radiate thermal energy. Think about an iron bar that
has been heated until it glows a cherry red. It is radiating energy
in the visible spectrum that we can see. Even objects that don't
glow visibility can radiate heat in the form of infra-red waves.
the most famous application of this was in 1965 when two scientists
in New Jersey were trying to figure out why there was static in
their newly built radiometer antenna. The found a hissing sound
at 3.5 degrees Kelvin that they could not account for. After some
phone calls they figured out that that they were listening to
the sound of material left over from the "Big Bang." Over the
course of a billions years it had cooled down to radiate heat
at just a few degrees about absolute zero. Arno Penzias and Robert
Woodrow Wilson shared a Nobel Prize for their accidental discovery.
Filthy Facts - What is dirt made of? - John
I assume you are referring not just to that stuff that we find
under our fingernails, but to that stuff that's under our feet
when we step outside our houses into the back yard. If so, then
more technical word for this material is soil.
the exact ingredients change from location to location, soil is
about 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air, and 5% organic material.
The mineral portion is simply rock that has been broken and crushed
down to tiny particles over time. There are a number of different
processes that help break a large boulder down into gains. The
most obvious of these is water. In a climate where the temperature
drops below zero at night for part of the year, water from rain
or snow can work its way into tiny cracks in the rock. When the
temperature goes down the water turns to ice and expands, cracking
the rock. This widens the fissures allowing more water into the
rock so that the process is repeated over and over again.
can also break rock apart. Even in rock newly created from cooling
volcanic lava, certain plants can find a foothold by locating
nutrient-bearing water in pores in the rock. The plant's roots
support a fungus called mycorrhiza that generates chemicals that
break up the rock. As the roots grow they can also mechanically
widen the pores to cracks, furthering the process.
and wind can also act to erode rock and break it down by scraping
tiny particles against it like sandpaper. These broken up gains
of rock are known as "parent material" (With the parent being
the original rock).
organic material only composes about 5% of soil, it's one of the
most important parts and absolutely necessary for plants to grow.
A single shovel full of topsoil can contain billions of tiny plants,
animals and microorganisms. These include bacteria, fungi, and
protozoa that can eat the minerals and convert them to nutrients
that plants can use.
definite layers. Starting at ground level we have the area where
surface plants and animals live. When living material dies up
here it is attacked by bacteria and broken down and turns into
humus. Humus is simply organic material that has reached a point
where it can be broken down no further and will remain just as
it is for centuries.
level is known as topsoil and this is where most of the organic
material in the soil, dead and alive is. Much of the topsoil is
in the form of the aforementioned humus.
below that is subsoil. The subsoil has much less organic matter
than topsoil, but plenty of nutrients and water, so plants shoot
their roots down to this level to get these and pull them back
up to the surface.
parent material is the next level. This has almost no organic
material at all and is composed of minerals broken down into small
particles. The parent material that created this isn't necessary
the same as the bedrock below this level as wind and water may
have displaced the granulated minerals from distant locations.
level is solid bedrock. The distance from the surface to the bedrock
varies a lot from location to location, but on average it is about
eight inches. It takes about a thousand years for a half inch
of soil to develop in nature, but this is dependent of many factors
like climate and the hardness of the parent rock material, as
well as whether soil itself is eroded away by water and wind.
With the Devil - In the movie Fantasia there is
a work called "A Night On Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky
and during the intro it says that the Bald Mountain is a real
location and according to tradition, is the gathering place of
Satan and is followers. My question is this has there been any
sighting of paranormal activity around the mountain? - Ben
you are referring to was written by the innovative Russian composer
Modest Mussorgsky in 1867. This work, unfortunately, was never
performed before Mussorgsky's death in 1870. In 1881 his friend
composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov did an arrangement of it and
this premiered in 1886 quickly becoming a favorite of concert
goers the world round. Leopold Stokowski also did a new arrangement
of it in the early 20th century and this version that is used
in the 1940 Disney film.
Mussorgsky's works were inspired by Russian folklore and Night
on Bald Mountain is no exception. The use of the word "bald"
is a direct translation from the Russian, but in this case it
really means "bare" as in a mountain with no trees. The idea stems
from the folklore of Eastern Europe in which witches would meet
at midnight on bare hilltops to perform unholy rites. As Mussorgsky
himself wrote "So far as my memory doesn't deceive me, the witches
used to gather on this mountain, gossip, play tricks and await
their chief - Satan. On his arrival they, i.e. the witches, formed
a circle round the throne on which he sat, in the form of a kid,
and sang his praise. When Satan was worked up into a sufficient
passion by the witches' praises, he gave the command for the Sabbath,
in which he chose for himself the witches who caught his fancy."
on Bald Mountain had a long history. In 1858 Mussorgsky started
working an Opera called St. John's Eve using elements from Nikolai
Gogol's short story St. John's Eve about a Russian peasant
who makes a deal with a witch that costs him his immortal sole.
The project was never completed, but some of the pieces may have
been transferred to The Witch an 1860 opera project by
Mussorgsky based on a play by the same name written by Baron Georgy
Mengden, a friend of the composer.
Mengden's play the first introduced the idea of a witches' Sabbath
as the centerpiece of the music. The Witch was never completed,
but Mussorgsky used elements of it to compose St. John's Night
on the Bare Mountain (the original title of the piece) in
1867. The work was meant to be a "tone poem" which means it is
meant to illustrate a poem, story or picture. In this case the
music is used to evoke in the listener a picture of a meeting
of witches with their master, Satan.
is the Bald Mountain at? Lysa Hora is the location identified
by Mussorgsky in his notes. Lysa Hora is not so much a mountain
as a low hill located inside the boundaries of the Ukrainian capital
city Kiev. The name translated into English comes out as "Barren
Mount" or "Bald Mount." Though today the hill is fairly wooded,
in earlier times much of it had no trees. It is referred to as
a meeting place of witches in works by Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov.
the Russian Army built a fort on the hill. Later this was converted
to a storehouse. Beginning in 1906 the Tsarist government used
it as an execution place for over 200 prisoners. Today it is a
are claims that the place is haunted and people have allegedly
had paranormal experiences there, but whether this is because
there is something abnormal about the place, or people are simply
being affected by its reputation is unknown.
is just one of a number of "bald" mountains in Eastern Europe
that have an evil reputation. Zamkova Hora, also in Kiev, has
a similar status. In Germany the Brocken, the highest peak of
the Harz mountain range, is also known as a bare mountain where
witches meet. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used it in his in his
play Faust. The Brocken spectre, an optical illusion that
looks a bit like a ghost, but is caused by fog and bright sun
behind a person, maybe the one of the reasons that this particular
peak has a reputation for paranormal events.
the popularity of the Rimsky-Korsakov version, modern music historians
suggest that in "fixing" Mussorgsky's music Rimsky-Korsakov was
really changing the character of the work and making it more bland
and acceptable to audiences. The original version has now been
recorded and it is a quite a bit more of the nightmare that Mussorgsky
meant it to be.
the Moon - My question is a hypothetical one: what if,
for whatever reason, the moon would suddenly be gone? Would it
gravely affect life on Earth? I understand life would probably
not have started if it weren't for the tides caused by the Moon,
but are humans still depending on tides, directly or indirectly?
And what about the weather in a Moonless world? - Johan W.
noted, if Earth had never acquired the moon our planet would be
very different place. In fact, it might not have intelligent life,
or perhaps no life at all. The moon was created when a Mars-sized
body struck the Earth about 30 million years ago after the Earth
itself formed. This caused a huge amount of the Earth's crust
to be blown into orbit. Eventually it coalesced into a single,
large body that was an unusually large moon given the size of
its mother planet. The fact that a large portion of Earth's crust
found its way into orbit may be responsible for us having the
multi-plate tectonics that have created our continents (Because
the moon's gravitational forces help keep the Earth's guts warm
and moving). Without continents we might find ourselves living
on a "waterworld" with no land. This might not mean there wouldn't
be any life, but without dry land fire and other technologies
might not have developed limiting the expansion of civilization.
would still give the oceans tides, but they would be weak. Without
the moons helping to "mix" Earth's oceans life might not have
appeared, or it might have developed much more slowly. Also the
moon's tides have also been responsible for slowing the Earth's
rotation. Without this we would probably have shorter days and
typical wind speeds of over 200 mph.
there was not moon from the beginning, the Earth would look like
a much different place. But suppose, as in your question, it just
suddenly disappeared someday. Would we notice?
would be more subtle, but still significant. The moons tides create
moving stream of water in the oceans which can affect our weather.
These tides carry much heat away from the equator and up towards
the poles. Without them we would expect the lower latitudes to
be much warmer, which might change weather patterns. For example,
without the moon we might find that the Pacific Ocean's El Nińo
winds might simply go away or change. We might also expect to
see some rain-soaked lands turn into deserts or visa versa. Undoubtedly
this would also affect storm patterns across the globe.
of the moon also causes the ocean levels to be higher near the
equator, and lower toward the poles. If the moon suddenly vanished
we would find coastlines changing as water moved from lower latitudes
to higher ones. Your beach front condo might suddenly be miles
from the ocean.
find a number of animals unhappy with the sudden loss of the moon.
Many creatures along the shore are highly affected by tides and
depend on them. A number of nocturnal creatures are adapted to
operate on moonlight so we would probably see these die out to
be replaced with other species adapted to just starlight.
have also benefited from moonlight, but with our invention of
electric lights the loss of lunar illumination, might only be
a minor annoyance. Even in our modern world, however, certain
human patterns, like conception, seem still to be linked to the
phases of the moon. Perhaps these are just psychological, but
they are still real.
of course, need to take into account the movement of tides in
ship navigation, so without the moon, this would change. There
is some technology now that uses tides to generate electricity
(by driving turbines as water moves in and out of a bay) and these
would become much less efficient if the weak tides associated
with the sun were the only forces moving the ocean. The lack of
large tides would also impact at least one popular sport and,
as one scientist put it "The surfing would suck."
would see quite a few significant changes to the Earth's environment,
with no moon, but they won't necessary be catastrophic. And course
there is an upside: we wouldn't have to worry about werewolves.
Strategic Bombing - I came across a reference to a General
Walther Wever. He seemed to be the main proponent of [German]
strategic bombing until he died (some say mysteriously) in 1936.
My question is what do you think would have happened had he lived?
Might he have convinced Germany of the need for powerful long
range bombers, like the ones the Allies used on Germany, sooner
rather than later? What effect might it have had if the Germans
could do the same to the Allies as they did to them? - Michael
start by giving a little history of General Wever for those not
familiar with him. He was born in 1887 and served as a German
staff officer in WWI. During the period in between the war he
was appointed Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe and was a proponent
of a balanced German air force that was both capable of tactical
operations in support of front line troops and strategic operations
designed to destroy an enemy's resources and ultimately his ability
to make war. Wever died in 1936 flying back from Dresden to Berlin
when the plane he was aboard crashed shortly after takeoff. An
examination of the wreckage revealed that locks designed to keep
the control surfaces of the plane from being damaged by high winds
while parked had not been removed during the pre-flight check.
This rendered the plane uncontrollable in the air.
if Wever had prevailed in convincing the Germans to build more
strategic bombers it would have changed the course of the war.
Wever recognized that the Soviet Union would be a particularly
hard enemy to beat if the Russian industrial production located
beyond the Ural Mountains could not be damaged. This required
a bomber capable of flying at least 1,240 miles carrying a bomb
load of 3,300 pounds (a type of plane nicknamed the "Ural Bomber").
Wever got two prototypes of such a bomber ordered before his death:
The Dornier Do 19 and the Junkers Ju 89. By the time they were
delivered, however, Wever was dead and, Albert Kesselring had
taken his place. Kesselring didn't see a need for Germany to invest
in heavy bombers and convinced his boss, Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief
of the Luftwaffe, to cancel the program. Perhaps Göring felt that
such bombers would be of limited use against a strong air defense.
He seemed to think Germany would be able to fend them off. In
1939 he boasted "The Ruhr will not be subjected to a single bomb.
If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring!"
It seems as if Göring regretted his decision as time went on,
however, when the Allies started reducing German cities to rubble.
He blamed the bad call on his advisors who said heavy bombers
weren't as effective as medium ones, "Well, those inferior heavy
bombers of the other side are doing a wonderful job of wrecking
Germany from end to end," he said, bitterly.
had lived could he had talked Göring into seeing the need for
strategic bombing? Perhaps. Working against him was the general
belief, however, that the German's had that the war would be relatively
short. Only three years. They didn't expect it to drag out and
become a war of attrition. This timeline colored the German thinking
in many ways including the decision not to invest heavily in the
atomic bomb (which was a four or five year-long project).
if Wever had lived and convinced Göring to build a heavy bomber
force it might have actually shortened the war dramatically by
tipping the scales in Germany's favor during the Battle of Britain.
The German air force was ill equipped for the job of gaining air
superiority over Britain by destroying its aircraft industry and
fighter squadrons. The Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber, in which
the German's had heavily invested, and which had performed so
well during the blitzkrieg victories early in the war, were easy
targets for the well-organized British fighter defense and had
to be withdrawn from the battle.
only wonder what might have happened if Wever was around and his
heavy bombers had pounded Britain the way the Allied bombers pounded
the Germans later in the war. If the Germans had managed to gain
air superiority, Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain,
would have followed. If successful this would have stopped the
British strategic bombing of Germany before it really got started
and deprived the U.S. of airbases it needed to attack Germany
with its B-17 squadrons.
have left the United States and Germany peering at each other
across the Atlantic. Germany could have then proceeded with its
"Amerika Bomber" program and the
U.S. would have been forced to develop its own trans-Atlantic
bomber. How the war would have ended is anybody's guess, but whoever
invented the atomic bomb first probably would have been the winner.
Punk Sub and Plane - Could someone build a steam powered
submarine or airplane? - Jacob
these feats have already been done! The first steam powered submarine
was the the Ictíneo II built by Spanish inventor Narcís
Monturiol Estarrol in 1864 and modified from human to steam power
in 1867. The problem with powering any kind of submarine is the
most engines burn oxygen and quickly use up the limited air inside
a submerged vessel stopping the engine and killing the crew. Estarrol
powered his sub, however, by using a chemical reaction between
potassium chlorate, zinc and manganese dioxide. This reaction
generated enough heat to turn water into steam and drive a turbine
engine to push the sub forward. As a bonus the reaction also produced
oxygen which allowed the crew to remain underwater to eight hours.
Unfortunately this history making boat was destoryed after only
20 demonstration dives when the shipyard that built it scrapped
it when Estarrol couldn't pay his bills!
until 1913 that anybody tried to use a steam engine on board a
submarine again. The British were interested in making their subs
fast enough to keep up with the rest of the fleet, so they put
a boiler and steam engines into their K-Class subs. The steam
engines only worked on the surface, however, and when the boat
submerged they had to use standard batteries.
WW II the German's developed a steam powered sub using the same
principals as Estarrol. The boat carried a tank of hydrogen peroxide
which when run through a catalyst produces oxygen. The oxygen,
burned with diesel created the heat to make steam and drive a
turbine. The United States experimented with this idea after WWII,
but dropped further development in favor of subs with nuclear
for the airplane. As early as 1842 two enterprising Brits, William
Samuel Henson and John Stringfellow, patented a design for an
"Aerial Steam Carriage" which would carry passengers. The two
had more success at publicizing the device using beautiful lithograph
advertisements of the plane flying over exotic locations like
the Egyptian pyramids (left), than actually getting it
into the air, however. The problem they had was that steam engines,
compared to the modern internal combustion engine, has a much
poorer power to-weight ratio. This is less of a concern with something
like a railroad locomotive that stays on the ground, but is a
critical factor for an airplane.
19th century, however, internal combustion engines were in their
infancy. Though they would eventually have a much better power-to-weight
ratio than steam engines this wouldn't be until the 20th century.
Also early internal combustion engines tended to be unreliable,
stopping without warning. Not something you like to see in an
worked as best they could with steam engines. Hiram Maxim, inventor
of the machine gun, also dabbled with aviation and built a massive
three and a half ton airplane powered by two 360hp steam engines
which he tested on a track near Bexley, England. Unfortunately
during a ground test in 1884 the track failed and the machine
flew loose. As it was uncontrollable in the air, it immediately
crashed and Maxim decided not to rebuild it.
there are claims that Gustave Whitehead
built and flew a steam-powered airplane near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
The plane supposedly got off the ground and crashed into a building.
However, there is little historical evidence for this story.
clear example of a steam power plane actually achieving a controlled
flight was in the 1930's when George D. and William J. Besler
converted a Travel Air 2000 aircraft to use a light steam engine.
The two brothers started on the project just to see if it could
be done and demonstrated some successful flights at the airport
in Oakland California. One observer noted the plane, without the
roar of an internal combustion engine, was extremely quiet and
the pilot could converse with people on the ground from an altitude
of 200 feet. It was also capable of very short landings as the
propeller could be instantly reversed after the wheels touched
the ground to slow the plane. The steam engine also used less
flammable type fuel than fuel which saved money and lowered the
chances of a fire during a crash.
some enthusiasm for steam-power flight from the press at the time,
the plane turned out to be never more than a novelty and an interesting
footnote in aviation history.
Found On Google Earth? - There is an underwater grid-like
structure in the Atlantic Ocean northwest of Africa. This is clearly
seen from Google Earth at coordinates 31 29'31.63"N 24 27'49.31"W.
I have checked all the accompanying data and there is no logical
explanation. - Victor N.
first began noticing this strange looking structure in early 2009
some people thought that it might be evidence for the existence
of the lost continent of Atlantis. The grid structure looks a
lot like city streets though the size (about 90 miles square)
seems a bit big for ancient city.
Orser, a curator of historical archaeology at New York State University
and an expert on Atlantis, thought the anomaly was fascinating
and warranted further inspection. "The site is one of the most
prominent places for the proposed location of Atlantis, as described
by Plato. Even if it turns out to be geographical, this definitely
deserves a closer look," he added, speaking to the Sun
a closer inspection of the data reveals that it is only an artifact
in the way underwater topography for Google Earth has been put
together. As you may guess getting the data needed to map terrain
heights underwater is a lot more difficult that getting the same
information on land. The data from Google Earth comes from several
sources and the information is combined to get as accurate a picture
of the ocean floor as is possible.
of information comes from satellites that use radar to measure
the height of the ocean. Because a large underwater mountain has
more mass than an underwater plain, the gravity over the underwater
mountain is stronger. This means that over the mountain a "hump"
of water forms. This is too small to be visible to the naked eye,
but the radar of the satellite can sense it. Because the satellite
sees the hump on the surface, we know there must be a mountain
underneath it and it gets put on to the map.
is great for mapping large areas of the sea bed, but is limited
to finding really big things like mountains, valleys and plains
which may be miles in size.
method of mapping the sea bottom is to get a boat and use downward
pointing sonar (bouncing a sound wave off the bottom) to get an
exact measurement. This is very, very accurate, but can only give
you the depth directly under path of your boat.
two sources of information are combined into one map you can get
some strange results. For example, information from the boat sonar
can tell you that the depth of the water is a little deeper than
the satellite data says it is for the same area. This isn't totally
unexpected as the satellite data is known to be less accurate.
The map favors the boat's sonar (because it is known to be more
accurate) so it uses it when it is available. However, since survey
information by boat sonar is not available for most of the ocean,
the area on either side of where boat sailed still depends on
the satellite data. The result can be a straight line across the
map following the path of the boat which looks like some kind
of artificial structure, but really just an anomaly in the data.
in the case of this area in the North Atlantic there was a fairly
intensive survey done using boat sonar with the boats following
a grid pattern. I've found some evidence that this was related
to a project to see if this region of the Atlantic Ocean would
be a good place to dump radioactive waste. The data is still around,
but apparently the project was cancelled.
too. I don't think those Atlantians would be very happy if we
dumped a few hundred tons of atomic waste on their home…
Diamond - I've heard several stories about the 'cursed'
Hope diamond. Most stories about the Hope diamond say its owners
had a violent death. Is there any proof of this? Thanks! - Kelsey
of the hope diamond, the largest deep, blue diamond in the world,
is much like the curse of King Tut's Tomb: It has some roots in
actual events, but much of the story has been much exaggerated.
In the case of the diamond the culprits include the early 20th
century press and a few of its owners hoping to pump up its sales
has it that the diamond was originally one of two eyes stolen
from a statue of the goddess Sita somewhere in India. The priests
cursed whoever owned the stones from that point on. There is absolutely
no evidence that this story is true, however. It appears to have
originated in a New Zealand newspaper article in 1888 as a bit
of hoax journalism.
believed, however, that the diamond was brought back from India
in the form of a 115 carat rough-cut, triangular stone by French
traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in the 17th century. It is thought
that in 1669, Tavernier sold the blue diamond along with a bunch
of other valuable stones to the French King Louis XIV. Louis XIV
had the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, recut the stone into a in
a 67 carats diamond which became known as the French Blue.
the French Revolution it was stolen and did not appear again for
twenty years when it showed up in the collection of a London diamond
merchant named Daniel Eliason. By then it had been re-cut into
its current 45.5 carat shape. Although many suspected the Hope
was cut from the French Blue, it wasn't certain until a lead cast
of the French Blue diamond was discovered in 2007 allowing the
two to be compared, so the suspicion could be confirmed.
thought that the stone was purchased by King George IV of England,
but later sold to cover debts. By 1839, the Hope Diamond was in
the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope and it stayed with the
family until Lord Francis Hope sold it in the early 20th century
to a diamond dealer. It bounced around several dealers until it
was bought by Pierre Cartier in 1910. Cartier was able to interest
American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean in the stone and she purchased
it in 1912 and wore it at many gatherings until her death in 1947.
In 1949 it was sold to diamond merchant Harry Winston who donated
it to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 1958
where it has remained ever since.
title of a 1908 Washington Post article, "Hope Diamond Has
Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It," suggests the stone
has been supposedly responsible for much calamity for its owners.
The beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette have been blamed
on it, but the story seems to ignore the dozens of other royals
who didn't own the stone but lost their lives in the French Revolution.
The death of a former owner, Selim Habib, was blamed on the diamond,
but the truth was it was actually another man who drowned in a
shipwreck who happened to have the same name. The insanity and
suicide of diamond dealer Jacques Colot has been attributed to
the Hope, but there is no historical record that he was associated
with it in anyway. The forced abdication of Turkish Sultan Abdul
Hamid is supposedly the work of the diamond, but evidence shows
that though the Sultan was interested in the stone, he never bought
it. According to the legend, Tavernier, who brought back the stone
from India supposedly died of a fever soon afterward, but in reality
lived to the ripe old age of 84 (Quite a longevity achievement
for the 17th century).
May Yohe, the former wife of Lord Francis Hope, helped promote
the story of the curse, not to just explain misfortunes in her
own life, but also to promote her career. In 1921 she persuaded
film executive George Kleine to produce a 15-part action serial,
The Hope Diamond Mystery, in which she played Lady Francis
Hope. She also played the same part in The Mystery of the Hope
are some people associated with the diamond that did have tragedy
in their life. The last private owner was Evalyn Walsh McLean.
She had a son die in a car accident and her husband ran his business,
The Washington Post, into the ground (it was purchased
and brought back to health in the 1930's). He then left her for
another woman and eventually died in a sanitarium. Despite this
McLean lived to the age of 60 and never blamed her problems on
there a curse or not? It is extremely difficult to separate the
normal amount of tragedy we see in life from what might be caused
by some supernatural power. Plus much of what is blamed on the
diamond is appears to be just made up. Perhaps it is instructive
to look at the first and last owners of the diamond to see how
they fared: Tavernier and Winston. Travernier, who is the person
blamed for taking the diamond from the idol in the first place
and should have borne the brunt of the curse, lived into his eighth
decade. Winston, the last owner, was an immigrant who moved to
the United States and built a successful jewelry business from
nothing. The business continues to be extremely profitable even
today. Winston died in 1978 at age 82 never believing in the curse.
in any case nobody needs to worry about the curse anymore. The
Hope Diamond is the property of the Smithsonian Institution which
is a part of the United States government so there is no concern
that - hummm - Wall Street problems, housing crisis, terrorist
concerns, health care costs - perhaps there is something to that
curse after all...
Factor One Plus - Two objects move apart each at just over
the speed of light. Can they observe each other? - Dave B.
your question to be "If I hopped on one spaceship and my friend
jumped in another and both took off going faster that the speed
of light in opposite directions, could we look behind us and see
each other?" The short answer is no. The light coming from your
friend's rocket would never catch up to you, so you would never
see him. However, things are a little more complex than that.
an interesting "thought experiment" of the type that Einstein
would use to explore questions in relativity. (One of his thought
experiments was "If I rode a bike near the speed of light, what
would I see?").
a practical point of view you couldn't actually do it. Nothing
with "rest mass" (which is pretty much anything you need to build
a spaceship out of) can go faster, or even as fast as the speed
of light, which is a sizzling 186,000 miles a second in the vacuum
of space. Things get more and more massive as you accelerate them
and you would need more energy than is available in the universe
to accelerate a spaceship to the speed of light.
you see if you were on a rocketship, or Einstein's bike just approaching
the speed of light, however? Would the beam from the bike's headlight
slow down to a crawl?
the rider's point of view the light of the beam would still move
away from him at the speed of light! That's because while the
speed of light is a constant, time isn't. Time would slow down
for the rider so that when he measured the speed of his headlight,
it would still seem to be going at 186,000 miles a second away
approached the speed of light the world behind you would seem
to turn shades of red. This is because as you move really fast
the light waves coming from behind you are stretched out - a phenomenon
known as the Doppler Effect (it's the same one that causes a car
horn to appear to lower its pitch as the car passes by you).
it is impossible to build spaceships that go at the speed of light,
you can actually observe what would happen when you look at the
stars with a big telescope. Space is expanding a carrying all
the stars and galaxies (collections of stars) along with it. This
means the father a galaxy is from us the faster it is moving away
from us. In turn the farther a galaxy is away from us the more
its light will be "red-shifted" by the Doppler effect (In fact
astronomers use the amount of the "red-shift" to tell how far
an object is away from Earth). Galaxies very, very far away from
us appear to be going near the speed of light. Because they are
simply being carried along as space expands, the rules about acceleration
to the speed of light do not apply here. As they start to move
away from us faster than the speed of light the light waves arriving
from them get longer and longer and redder and redder until they
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2000. All Rights Reserved.