Archive for the ‘Video’ category

We Didn’t Fake the Moon Landings

July 29, 2010

But I want to get one of those dramatic glowing tables!

Advertisements

The size of planets and stars

July 7, 2010

What is the Best Dinosaur?

June 25, 2010

This is the funniest, most well-informed rant about dinosaurs I have ever witnessed (warning, NSFW language). I was a dinosaur freak as a kid, and I still remember a ridiculous amount about them. Can I just say how much I loved watching him shoot down people who thought plesiosaurs and pterodactlys were dinosaurs? Everything he says is correct except for one thing: Brontosaurus was (I believe) either a diplodocus head or a model of a head (no skull was ever found) on an apatosaurus body.

This picture of a Utahraptor is a combination of the scale drawing and artist's rendition on Wikipedia.

His rant about raptors is almost correct, but the velociraptors in the movie are actually a bit smaller than the real-world Utahraptor, which he mentions in passing. Deinonychus was about 4 feet tall, and was awesome until Jurassic Park came along. And yes, the real Velociraptor was about the size of a goose. Around the same time as the movie, a novel called Raptor Red came out, about a Utahraptor. I loved that book. It was written by a paleontologist (Robert Bakker), and brought the cretaceous to life for me.

Anyway, my vote for best dinosaur is the Utahraptor. Intelligent, social, fast and strong, and the real inspiration for the “velociraptors” in popular culture. Also? Probably warm-blooded, had feathers, and is closely related to birds.

What’s your favorite dinosaur?

The Case for Mars: Autotuned

June 3, 2010

For me, none of the newer symphony of science videos can match the sheer catchy-ness of the original, but this one is about exploring Mars, so I can’t complain too much. Check the Symphony of Science page for other autotuned science-themed music videos.

Barnstorming Mars

June 2, 2010

You need to check out this video that the ESA just posted:

This was compiled from the small “Visual Monitoring Camera” on Mars Express, and it gives a beautiful view of what Mars looks like from the spacecraft’s highly elliptical orbit. I love the way the orbit clearly speeds up as the spacecraft swoops by the pole. Also, pay close attention at the very end and you can see a dark spot cross the planet: that’s Phobos, one of Mars’ tiny moons!

For a more detailed discussion, check out Emily’s post on this awesome video!

Solar System Tour: The Sun

May 28, 2010

Everyone knows about the sun, it’s that really bright thing that rises every morning and sets every evening. Not everyone knows much about it though. For example, did you know the sun is actually a star? Ok, so maybe you knew that. But if you’re so smart, what’s it made of? The sun is almost entirely hydrogen, with a bit of helium mixed in and a tiny amount of all the rest of the elements, just to spice things up. You might think that a bunch of gas floating around in space wouldn’t hold together very well, but the sun is HUGE! It weighs 300,000 times as much as the earth! Because it is so big, gravity holds it together very nicely. In fact, gravity squeezes the center of the sun together so hard that the hydrogen atoms stick together to form helium in a process called fusion. Here’s a diagram of what happens during fusion:

It looks sort of complicated, but the important thing to know is, four hydrogen atoms get turned into one helium atom, and in the process a LOT of energy is released. All the energy being released in the center of the sun has to go somewhere, and it goes into heating up the center of the sun. The center of the sun is 15 million degrees Kelvin (that’s 27,000,000 Fahrenheit!!)!

At really high temperatures, matter is no longer a solid, liquid, or gas. It becomes a plasma, which means the electrons aren’t attached to the nucleus anymore, and both can just go flying around. Energy from the core of the sun makes its way toward the surface in two ways. The first is radiation, which means it travels as photons (light) through the dense plasma. After traveling by radiation for a while, the energy starts to travel by convection. Convection is what happend when you heat a blob of gas. Hot gas is less dense, so it starts to float upward. Once it floats to the top, the hot blob cools down and begins to sink again. This rising and sinking is called convection. Convection is what causes weather on earth, hot air rises and cooler air rushes in beneath it, making wind. On the sun, we can see convection happening right at the surface. The blobs of hot plasma are called granules. Each granule is about 1/10 the size of the earth! Check them out in this picture:

The bright parts in the center of the granules is hot gas rising, the dark edges are the cool gas sinking back down. This layer of the sun (with all the granules) that you can see is called the photosphere. It has an average temperature of about 5800 K. Most people think of the photosphere as the “surface” of the sun. Above the photosphere is a thin layer called the chromosphere. You normally can’t see this layer because the photosphere below it is much brighter, but sometimes when the moon passes in from of the sun and blocks most of the light (a solar eclipse), you can see the chromosphere glowing red. (Never look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse!!) The chromosphere is hotter than the photosphere, at around 7000K. At this temperature, hydrogen glows red, giving the chromosphere its color.

Above the chromosphere is a wispy layer that extends off into space called the corona. The corona is really hot (more than a million degrees!) but not very dense. It is made of gas and bits of atoms that are getting blown off the sun. These particles are called the solar wind. When they hit the earth’s atmosphere, they make the very highest layers of air glow, causing the northern and southern lights (also called aurora). Telescopes have shown that Jupiter and Saturn also have aurora, so the solar wind keeps going a very long way.

Spots and Loops and Flares, Oh My!

The sun isn’t just a boring ball of plasma, there’s some really amazing stuff going on up there. We said before that plasma is when the bits of atoms can move around however they want, but that’s not the whole story. When things that have a charge (like electrons and protons) start moving around, they create magnetic fields. Those magnetic fields force the plasma to follow them, and end up making some really interesting features on the surface of the sun. Sunspots are the most well known result. What happens is, a bunch of magnetic field lines cluster together and keep the blobs of gas from convection from rising up in that place. The gas that is in the sunspot gets stuck and cools off, so it looks darker. Check out this movie of sunspots forming! (Note: Unfortunately all the movies in this post are .mov format, which I can’t embed. But they are truly awesome, so I recommend clicking the links!)

The powerful magnetic fields on the sun force the plasma to follow them, and make beautiful glowing loops that extend into the corona. The loops can grow to be extremely large. When they are seen in front of the photosphere, they are called filaments, when they are seen at the edge of ths sun in front of space they are called prominences.

These loops contain a lot of energy stored in the magnetic fields. Sometimes the filaments “let go” and plasma goes flying either away from the sun, or is attracted to other magnetic fields on the sun. Check this out! A blob of gas goes flying off and hits some loops, making them shake back and forth. Sometimes, when the loops get crossed or twisted, a huge amount of energy is released in what is called a flare. During a flare, a patch of the sun heats up VERY quickly because of all the energy released. Sometimes this causes huge clouds of hot gas to go flying off the sun.

These clouds of gas are called Coronal Mass Ejections, and can be enormous! Check out the next picture, with a picture of the earth added for scale.

LittleDog and BigDog walking robots – Could they work on Mars?

May 28, 2010

If you haven’t seen these videos of experimental new walking robots developed by Boston Dynamics and  DARPA, you really need to. They are impressive and quite creepy in how similar the robot movements mimic a living creature.

Pretty awesome eh? But would robots like this work on Mars? Well, as you could hear in the BigDog video, it runs on a go-kart engine, so that wouldn’t work on Mars. But, in the lab it appeared to run on electricity while plugged in, and LittleDog appeared to run on a battery. I suspect it takes a lot more energy to walk than to use wheels to move the same sized robot, so improved sourced of energy would be a must-have for a Mars version of these.

Mars is a much more difficult environment than the earth, particularly in terms of moving parts on robots due to the extreme cold. Also, working at such cold temperatures would probably mean re-designing the hydraulics so they don’t freeze. But, if a robot like these were used on Mars, it wouldn’t need to move nearly as fast. It would still have to have reflexes to avoid falling over, but it could go much slower than the ones in the videos.

The closest analog to these robots that I’ve seen for space exploration is the ATHLETE platform, a six-legged robot being developed at JPL. It’s slow, but it it has some similar capabilities. I think it is remote controlled rather than autonomous though.

I’d love to see what would happen if the Boston Dynamics and JPL teams got together and designed a Mars or Moon rover. In the meantime, here’s a final video about ATHLETE.*

*You’ll notice that he refers to going to the moon in a decade or so. I’m not sure if ATHLETE was funded by Constellation, but I hope that it continues to be developed even if Constellation is canceled.