Month: July, 2017

How Artists Have Depicted Eclipses Across History

eclipse

A total solar eclipse is one of the most otherworldly experiences a person can have on Earth.

By an almost incredible coincidence, the the tiny, humdrum moon and the gigantic, raging sun are arranged in such a way so that the former can blot out the latter.

Although the moon is about 400 times smaller, it covers the sun’s disc because it’s about 400 times closer to the Earth.




A small group of dedicated travelers follow eclipses around the world, chasing the spectacle of the blackened sun’s corona and the umbra, the conical shadow the moon casts over Earth. The community is tightly knit, bonded over the life-altering experience of losing the sun.

Many “umbraphiles” are self-described eclipse addicts, having witnessed a dozen or more eclipses.

Several gathered this week in equatorial Africa for an annular eclipse, and are already planning their itineraries for what they’ve dubbed the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

eclipse

Next August will be the first time the path of a solar eclipse will cross the nation since the year of its founding.

For thousands of years, people in cultures around the world have depicted eclipses in art, imbuing them with fear and dread and a heavy dose of the supernatural.

A Chinese myth held that eclipses happened when a sky dragon dined on our star. In the Americas, the Inca had a similar tale, only the hungry beast was a jaguar.

In Western Europe during the Middle Ages, eclipses took on a dual meaning, and became a means for expressing varieties of both religious and scientific experience.

eclipse

“In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, astronomy and solar eclipses were a huge craze. Virtually anyone who considered himself an educated person then took an interest in art and science, in a way that doesn’t really happen anymore,” says Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum in London.

The popularization of telescopes and printing presses brought astronomical knowledge into middle class homes, he says. It was also a time of discovery, with new planets like Uranus and Neptune brought into the celestial fold, as well as new moons around distant worlds.

By the time of the Enlightenment, eclipse artwork played a surprisingly important role in science, he says: “There are intriguing occasions when the artistic eye has been of real utility to the scientific process.”

eclipse

In early Christian art, eclipses appeared in scenes of the crucifixion to signify the anger of God and to represent the collective grief of the universe, Blatchford says.

The Gospels tell of a darkened sky at the time of Christ’s death, which some scholars have interpreted as an eclipse. From Luke 23: 44-45: “It was now about the sixth hour and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured and the veil of the temple was torn in two.”

By the Italian Renaissance, paintings still held religious meaning, but their depictions of the sky and stars were drawn from early modern astronomy, Blatchford says.

Of all Blatchford’s finds, my favorite is a 1735 painting by German painter Cosmas Damian Asam. It depicts St. Benedict, who is said to have experienced a vision of the whole world “gathered together under a sunbeam.”

Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College, has written that this painting may be the first accurate depiction of a total solar eclipse.

He thinks Asam himself might have witnessed at least one, or maybe each, of the total solar eclipses that took place in 1706, 1724 and 1733. “In one picture, you’ve got a lot of religion and a lot of science,” says Blatchford.

Even after the advent of photography, artists played a role in capturing eclipses, he says. He points to this lithograph of a total eclipse in Wyoming in 1878, produced by a French artist named Etienne Trouvelot. It is less detailed than modern photographs, but arguably more beautiful.

eclipse

In 1918, the US Naval Observatory invited the American portrait painter Howard Russell Butler to paint a solar eclipse. His work depicted the corona, the glowing, wispy ring visible beyond the dark circle of the moon.

The painting’s perspective work supported the hypothesis that the corona was the sun’s atmosphere, and not the moon’s.

In the latter half of the 20th century, artists’ depictions of eclipses were less important to scientific discovery and more important as a means of interpretation.

For a cosmic event of such rarity and strangeness, an artist’s eye seems like a useful tool indeed. Though eclipses are well-understood physical phenomena, they are still imbued with mystery, and that’s something an artist can capture better than any camera.

eclipse

“Even though rationally we understand an eclipse, I would say most people still find it, in a way, a sign of some kind of providence. They still can’t quite believe it’s happening,” says Blatchford .

“Even if you know what is happening, why it’s happening is a different question, isn’t it? I think some of my colleagues get annoyed when I make that distinction.”

“But I think most of our fellow human beings do make a distinction between understanding a technical explanation and wanting to look at even deeper explanations behind it.”

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Bizarre New Species Of Fish: Ocean Sunfish

sunfish

As gigantic as the ocean sunfish can be, it still seems like only half a fish.

Unique traits

Sunfish, or mola, develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin which they are born with simply never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the enormous creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus.

Mola in Latin means “millstone” and describes the ocean sunfish’s somewhat circular shape. They are a silvery color and have a rough skin texture.




Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water.

Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths.

sunfish

Size and Weight

The mola are the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally and weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they’re cartilaginous fish.

Parasites

Ocean sunfish can become so infested with skin parasites, they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on the pesky critters. They will even breach the surface up to 10 feet in the air and land with a splash in an attempt to shake the parasites.

sunfish

Movement and Diet

They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.

sunfish

Threats to Survival

Their population is considered vulnerable. Sunfish frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

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The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

In this week’s live stream, I’m going to share clips of my interview with Isaac Arthur, which you can find the full version on the Answers With Joe Podcast:
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The Fermi Paradox, Cyborgs, And Artificial Intelligence – My Interview With Isaac Arthur

Isaac Arthur runs the YouTube channel Science and Futurism With Isaac Arthur, where he goes into incredibly deep dives on subjects like megastructures, future space colonies, aliens, and little things like farming black holes (like you do). Here we touch on a few of those topics and do a little shop talk about life as YouTubers.

If you enjoy this episode, check out Isaac’s channel at www.isaacarthur.net

The Top 5 Places We Could Colonize In Our Solar System

The 5 best options for colonizing in our solar system are:

  • The moon
  • Mars
  • Europa
  • Titan
  • Venus

 

The moon

Gravity: 1/6 that of earth

Air pressure: none

Temperature: extreme (253 in sun, -253 in shade)

Why go – a place to launch to other places Orbiting at 2288 mph (3683 kph) – significant boost

Advantages: Instant communication with Earth Good place to learn how to colonize where Experts are available 24/7

Advantages: Lighter gravity means we could build bigger there
Advantages: could dome over craters to create housing
Advantages: water ice in some pole craters

One place we have talked a lot about is Mars

 

Mars

Gravity: Just over 1/3 (38%)

Air Pressure: .6% if Earth’s

Temperature: 70 in day (20C), -100 at night (-73C)

Why go: Most comfortable temperature-wise and gravity-wise, but pressure is still abysmal

Down-side: Thin atmosphere means not enough to support life but enough to make landings difficult.

Terraforming option – most potential for terraforming. Melting ice caps could pump CO2 into the air and thicken the atmosphere as well as warm the planet

 

Europa

Gravity: 13% of Earth’s

Air pressure: barely exists – mostly oxygen

Temperature: -260F -160C

This seems like a swing and a miss, but there’s something interesting under the surface of Europa

Tidal heating causes a sea of liquid water beneath the surface.
One of the best options for finding life in the solar system
Underwater habitats might be the answer.

Downside: radiation carried by Jupiter’s magnetic field would pose an issue

 

Titan

Gravity: 13% of Earth’s

Air pressure: 1.5x that of Earth

Temperature: -290F, -179C

Of all the places in the solar system, Titan’s air pressure is most like Earth’s You could just walk around on the surface without a suit, except for the fact that it’s so cold methane flows in rivers.

Could use the methane for fuel

But I promised something controversial, and here it is, my personal favorite option for colonizing another planet… Venus.

 

Venus

Gravity: 91% of Earth’s

Air Pressure: 100x that of Earth

Temperature: 872F, 467C

Now I know what you’re saying, you’re saying Joe, that only meets one of the three criteria, how can you possibly pick that as your number one?

Because those numbers are for the planet’s surface. Up in the clouds, it’s a different story.

Venus’ air pressure is insane. On the surface, it would crush you like a soda can. But about 50 kilometers up in the atmosphere, it’s about the same as here.

Which means that just like a ship can float on top of the water, we could build colonies that float on the upper atmosphere of Venus.

It would still be hot, but manageable.

And I know people will always say, but what if you fall? Or if you drop something, you’ll never get it back.

Well, I go back to the ship on the sea analogy. If you fall off the boat, you’re likely to drown. If you drop your phone over the side, you’ll never see it again. But we still have cruise ships carrying thousands of people and entire navies floating around out there.

Plus the communication time would be smaller than anywhere else.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Master Plan Is About To Become Reality

This Friday is a day that over 400,000 people have been waiting for since March of 2016. Tesla is officially handing out the first production line Model 3s to reservation holders.

(over footage)
They first introduced the Model 3 16 months ago to huge fanfare, more than $130,000 people put a thousand dollars down before the car was even revealed.

And, full disclosure, I’m one of them. (hold up card) Now, I didn’t put money down before I saw it, I was adamant about that, I had to see it first. But when I saw it, I was like, “eh, why not?”

I can always get the deposit back if I change my mind.

Now I know it’ll be a while before I get mine and that’s fine, my Jetta diesel isn’t going anywhere.

And before you call me a Tesla fanboy in the comments, I cop to it, I’m a fan. And I’m going to assume most of you watching this are fans because… why else would you watch this video, unless you get off on hating things, which… I dunno, that sounds miserable way to live your life to me, but… Kay.

So this is kind-of a big deal, so I wanted to talk about what this launch event means, both to Tesla and the car industry, and throw in my own thoughts and concerns along the way.

Hold on tight because this video’s going into Ludicrous mode.

A Ball And Disc Spinning Magnetic Fidget Toy

orbiter

Fidget toys are certainly becoming quite prevalent everywhere within the last year.

Be it the fidget cube, fidget pens, fidget rings, or even a moon gravity simulating fidget toy, everyone seems to need to fill their busy hands with something to play with while they think, work, or just something to calm that ADHD.




This newest installment of a fidget toy consists simply of a magnetic disc and a metallic ball. Known as the Orbiter, the unique fidget toy allows you to do a multitude of things with it, including letting you spin the metal ball around the edges of the disc super quickly, spinning it like a top, a hand spinner, and more.

orbiter

By default the metallic ball rests in the depression of the base. But once you’re ready to start using it just flip it out of the base with your finger and start fidgeting.

The Orbiter fidget toy is super small, as it easily can be placed in your pocket when not in use, then just slip it out when those fidget cravings come along.

With just a few minutes of practice you can become a master Orbiter user to help relieve stress and increase your focus.

orbiter

Your purchase includes 1 orbiter, 1 metallic ball, and a carrying pouch, all packaged within a high quality gift box.

The device is made using grade 5 titanium and powerful neodymium magnets, weighs well under 2 oz, and can easily be stored in a pocket, purse, or just right on the front of your desk at work.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How Big Is The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

marine debris

Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California.

These areas of spinning debris are linked together by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, located a few hundred kilometers north of Hawaii.




This convergence zone is where warm water from the South Pacific meets up with cooler water from the Arctic. The zone acts like a highway that moves debris from one patch to another.

The entire Great Pacific Garbage Patch is bounded by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. An ocean gyre is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the rotation of the planet.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is created by the interaction of the California, North Equatorial, Kuroshiro, and North Pacific currents. These four currents move in a clockwise direction around an area of 20 million square kilometers (7.7 million square miles).

turtle

The area in the center of a gyre tends to be very calm and stable. The circular motion of the gyre draws debris into this stable center, where it becomes trapped.

The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.

For many people, the idea of a “garbage patch” conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are almost entirely made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics. Microplastics can’t always be seen by the naked eye.

plastic debris

Even satellite imagery doesn’t show a giant patch of garbage. The microplastics of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can simply make the water look like a cloudy soup. This soup is intermixed with larger items, such as fishing gear and shoes.

The seafloor beneath the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may also be an underwater trash heap. Oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

No one knows how much debris makes up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is too large for scientists to trawl. In addition, not all trash floats on the surface.

Denser debris can sink centimeters or even several meters beneath the surface, making the vortex’s area nearly impossible to measure.

north pacific

 

About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. Trash from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year.

The remaining 20% of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water.

The majority of this debris—about 705,000 tons—is fishing nets. More unusual items, such as computer monitors and LEGOs, come from dropped shipping containers.

seal

While many different types of trash enter the ocean, plastics make up the majority of marine debris for two reasons. First, plastic’s durability, low cost, and malleability mean that it’s being used in more and more consumer and industrial products. Second, plastic goods do not biodegrade but instead break down into smaller pieces.

Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food.

Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. Marine debris can also disturb marine food webs in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

As microplastics and other trash collect on or near the surface of the ocean, they block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below.

albatross

Algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs, or producers, in the marine food web. Autotrophs are organisms that can produce their own nutrients from oxygen, carbon, and sunlight.

If algae and plankton communities are threatened, the entire food web may change. Animals that feed on algae and plankton, such as fish and turtles, will have less food.

If populations of those animals decrease, there will be less food for apex predators such as tuna, sharks, and whales. Eventually, seafood becomes less available and more expensive for people.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Study Suggests That House Dust May Spur Growth Of Fat Cells

dust

Could something as simple as household dust be contributing to America’s obesity epidemic?

Small amounts of household dust appear to contain many of the compounds that can spur fat cells to accumulate more fat at least in lab settings, according to research published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.




The researchers took samples of indoor dust from 11 North Carolina homes, and tested extracts from those samples in a mouse pre-adipocyte cell model.

According to the researchers, extracts from seven of the samples triggered the cells to develop mature fat cells and accumulate fat.

dust

Extracts from nine samples spurred the cells to divide, creating a bigger pool of precursor fat cells. Only one sample showed no effects. The researchers concluded that house dust is a likely source of chemicals that can derail metabolic health.

The study, which is notably small, suggests that the conversation around reducing obesity, which is often anchored in questions of diet and exercise, needs to expand to incorporate a better understanding of environment and pollution.

dust

It doesn’t take much dust to see a negative impact, at least under lab conditions: dust amounts as small as 3 micrograms showed measurable effects, according to the researchers.

Looking beyond simple household dust, environmental pollution poses a deadly threat to children worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die annually due to the effects of living in polluted environments.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Power Of The web: Methods Of How Spiders Catch Their Prey

spider web

Spun from silk, with the strength of steel but with extraordinary elasticity, a spider’s web has long been regarded as one of Mother Nature’s most amazing feats.

Now scientists at Oxford University have revealed another unique quality – webs actively spring towards prey thanks to electrically conductive glue spread across their surface.

Researchers discovered that the electrical properties of a glue that coats spider webs causes them to reach out to grab all charged particles, from pollen and pollutants to flying insects.




The study, published in Naturwissenschaften journal, shows how a quirk of physics causes webs to move towards all airborne objects, regardless of whether they are positively or negatively charged.

This explains why webs are able to spring towards prey and how they collect small airborne particles so efficiently. Spider webs could, according to researchers, be used for environmental monitoring as they actively filter airborne pollutants with the same accuracy as expensive industrial sensors.

spider web

“Electrical attraction drags airborne pollutants including aerosols and pesticides to the webs, so you could harvest and test webs to monitor pollution levels – for example, to check for pesticides that might be harming bee populations,” said Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University’s department of zoology, who led the study.

“What’s fascinating is that you can detect some airborne chemicals just by looking at the shape of the webs. Many spiders clear particles from their webs by eating them, including chemicals that are electrically drawn to the web.”

In tests spiders are known to create different qualities of web depending on their drug consumption, Professor Vollrath said.

spider web

The researchers showed that the webs also cause local distortions in the Earth’s electric field since they behave like conducting discs.

Many insects are able to detect small electrical disturbances, including bees, that can sense the electric fields of different flowers and other bees.

Electrical disturbances caused by spider webs are extremely short-ranged, so it is not yet clear whether insects would be able to sense them before the web snaps out to grab them.

spider web

Professor Vollrath added that spider webs make use of the static charge developed by moving insects to “actively catch prey”.

The latest revelation will add to the fascination with spiders’ webs, the structures of which are already under investigation for potential applications in industry, including in bullet-proof vests and even in artificial tendons.

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Pass it on: New Scientist