Posts Tagged 'science'

A Real-Time Map of Wind on Earth

The wind is an incredibly interesting thing to think about. It is something that is completely invisible to us. We can hear, feel, smell, and even taste it but we can only see what it does to things that we can see. Ultimately it is just air in our atmosphere moving from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure and that is one of the most important parts of what makes weather possible on Earth.

I bring this up because I found an incredibly cool interactive globe last night that shows you the wind speeds everywhere on Earth in real-time. Looking at it zoomed out you’ll observe that the strongest winds at any given time will be over our oceans where there’s no land to get in the way. You have to zoom in pretty closely over the continents to actually see how fast the air is moving on land. It is a really fun tool to play around with and it gives you a good sense of what the weather might be like everywhere in the world at the moment.

If you want to see something really cool, check out Antarctica.

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World’s Tallest Mountain is Discovered in the Pacific Ocean

We have known for quite a while that the summit of Mt. Everest is the highest point of land above sea level in the world at 29,029 feet above sea level. However, it’s not actually the world’s tallest mountain nor is it the solar system’s biggest mountain. The reason is because the definition of a mountain is more complicated than you might think. Using Wikipedia’s definition a mountain is “a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak.” This is a moment in science that is very similar to when Pluto got demoted to being a dwarf planet.

One thing that many of us tend to forget is that the ocean floor is by no means flat and there are massive, undersea mountain ranges in all of our oceans formed mainly by underwater volcanoes. Some of these volcanic mountains get so tall that they break the surface of the ocean and become islands. Some of those islands include all of the islands that make up Japan and Hawaii. Using that definition though, scientists just recently discovered the largest mountain in the world beneath the Pacific Ocean about 1000 miles east of Japan. This mountain, Tamu Massif, is a rounded dome about the size of the state of New Mexico that rises up 21,120 feet above it’s base reaching its summit about 6500 feet below the ocean’s surface.

Tamu Massif has been known to humanity for about a century but it was only recently that it was discovered that this mountain is one giant volcano. It was previously thought that it was an underwater plateau or mountain range built up by many different volcanoes close to one another but further analysis revealed that most of the mountain was formed by one massive eruption about 145 million years ago when dinosaurs were walking the Earth. Geologists estimate that the volcano went extinct very soon afterward and has been quiet ever since. Now that it has been confirmed that the mountain was made by one volcano, this mountain actually takes the title of the biggest mountain in our solar system away from Olympus Mons on Mars. This is one of those moments that makes us realize that there is still so much about our own planet that we still don’t yet know especially when it comes to things in the depths of the ocean.

A topographic map of the ocean floor is not quite as impressive as Mt. Everest

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Scientists Identify Three Super-Earths Nearby

The European Southern Observatory recently announced that they have discovered three “Super-Earth” exoplanets orbiting the star Gliese 667C. These planets are several times bigger than Earth and closer to their star but the star that they orbit isn’t as hot as our sun, which allows for liquid water to exist on its surface. These planets right now represent the best possible hope for humans to colonize another planet outside of our solar system due to their solid crust and them being in their star’s “Goldilocks zone”. We can’t tell whether or not the planets have large amounts of liquid water or if they have an atmosphere we can breathe from here but they have that potential. Though in in cosmic terms these planets are close to our sun, at 22 light-years away don’t expect us to be sending any people over for a closer look soon. A spacecraft traveling at the speed that Voyager 1 is moving would take about 382,000 years to reach these planets and Voyager 1 is the fastest moving spacecraft ever made by humans.

Still the best long term hope for the continued survival of humanity is to colonize outer space. No matter what we humans do, the continued warming of the sun will make the Earth too hot to support life in about a billion years and the only way for humans to survive that fate is to colonize other planets in outer space. We just made one of the first steps towards that reality by finding three potential planets that our descendants can eventually colonize and that is incredibly exciting.

They’re orbiting that big star in the middle

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The Seventeen Year Cicada is Coming

This summer we on the east coast are going to witness the emergence of an insect that appears only once every seventeen years. The last time this brood of insects was seen on the east coast was in 1996 and they won’t be seen again until 2030. Many among us may not like bugs, but the average American will only have do deal with this insect only four or five times in their life.

These insects spend seventeen years underground as larvae surviving on the root juice of nearby trees. Then after seventeen years when the soil reaches the right temperature they all emerge from the ground, cast off their larva shell, and grow wings. Thousands upon thousands will swarm the outdoors seeking a mate to reproduce with. After a few days, the females that have successfully mated will cut open a small live twig and lay her eggs there. Their purpose for emerging fulfilled, the adult cicadas will go on to live a few more weeks before dying. Meanwhile after the eggs hatch six weeks later, the newborn larvae will burrow underground and stay there for another seventeen years.

The other fascinating thing about cicadas is that the only defense they have against predators above the ground is their sheer numbers. A large number of these bugs end up getting eaten when they emerge but there are so many of them that the insectivores in their environment can’t possibly eat them all. Their emergence should remind us of the fascinating diversity of life on Earth and the amazing ways that life forms can survive the challenges they face.

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The Space Race and Social Media

Funding our space program has never been politically popular. Even in the 1960s when NASA’s funding and support was at its highest, more people in America opposed its funding than supported it. The refrain is always the same too; “We have enough problems as it is down here on Earth, let’s focus on those first.” Fortunately for us, Congress and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon decided to completely ignore public opinion when it came to our space program and everyone in the world benefitted from it.

In the summer of 1966 NASA launched a weather satellite and that fall it observed a hurricane developing over the Gulf of Mexico heading towards Texas. For the first time in human history we were able to give people in the hurricane’s path an early warning that the storm was coming and order them to evacuate, potentially saving many lives. After the hurricane hit, President Johnson famously said “Today our space program just paid for itself.” NASA’s primary mission at that time may have been to put a man on the moon but their innovations ended up creating new industries and developing new technologies that have improved all of our lives.

I would argue that social media is like NASA for many businesses. Companies that can use social media very well can benefit enormously in today’s digital economy but the path to reaping those benefits is much less clear and predictable. In business there is a tendency to think in terms of simple causality; doing A will lead to B. If B is not something that will directly benefit the business then it usually gets dismissed as something that isn’t worth doing. With social media it’s more like doing A leads to B which leads to C which leads to D. Only when you get to D is where you get something that directly benefits the business.

Microsoft recently did a study on companies and social media surveying about 10,000 information workers across 32 countries and broadly speaking it shows that there is a disconnect between management and their employees over the effectiveness of social media. 46 percent of those surveyed say that use of social tools has improved their own productivity, and 28 percent of respondents say that they know people who have completely ignored their company’s policy regarding using social media. The main concerns against its usage are loss of productivity and security concerns. Ultimately I think that the biggest issue that upper management in many companies has with social media is that it is unpredictable. Much like space funding there is no clear line that can be drawn with respect to how it improves the company and too often it gets shunned altogether as a result. In my opinion this is a grave mistake. The refusal or inability to embrace new innovations in many industries is a death sentence. Just ask Kodak, Polaroid, and Blockbuster.

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