Month: July, 2017

Cloud Atlas Leaps Into 21st Century With A Whole New Species Of Clouds

Cloud Atlas may be best known as a big-budget 2012 movie, staring Tom Hanks, but the International Cloud Atlas is a guide that every meteorologist in the world can turn to when looking at the clouds we see in the sky.

Established in 1939 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and last updated in 1986, this invaluable resource has now been moved into the digital realm, so that it is available to us all, and it adds a dozen new cloud types. Both naturally-occurring and human-caused – to its lexicon of weather terms.

Clouds are classified in a way very similar to what’s used in biology – genera for the overarching classes, based on their height and thickness (cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc).

Species for specific types under those broad classes (fractus, congestus, etc), varieties that describe the organization and transparency of the clouds.

And then supplementary features, which are smaller clouds associated with and attached to larger clouds, and accessory clouds that are smaller clouds associated with larger clouds, but are mostly separate from them.

So, let’s meet these new cloud types!




Volutus

Volutus

Volutus is a new species of cloud that encompasses the various roll clouds. These form as long, horizontal tubes, detached from any other clouds in their vicinity, which are caused by differences in wind speed and direction between the surface and higher up (aka wind shear).

Asperitus

asperatus

Formerly known as undulatus asperatus, when the supplemental feature Asperitus shows up, it’s almost like looking at waves on the surface of the water, but from a vantage point under the water. The Atlas separates this from “undulatus” clouds, since undulatus are much more organized (often into bands).

Cavum

Cavum

Cavum is now the formal name of what’s been called a “fallstreak cloud” or “hole punch cloud”.

This supplemental feature is caused when ice crystals are introduced into a thin cloud comprised of super-cooled water droplets, usually due to an aircraft passing through the cloud on takeoff or landing.

The water droplets remain liquid well below freezing, since there is nothing present for them to freeze onto. With the sudden appearance of the ice crystals, the water droplets in the vicinity all rush in – creating a clear spot in the cloud where they freeze and grow the crystals into snowflakes, which then fall out of the sky.

Murus

Murus

A Murus, or wall cloud, is a supplemental feature that takes the shape of bank of cloud that lowers from the base of a supercell, is associated with strong updrafts, and can indicate the presence, or impending development, of a tornado.

Fluctus

Fluctus

These supplemental features, now called Fluctus, are widely known as Kelvin-Helmholtz waves or Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. These features are caused by the winds above the cloud top blowing faster than the winds inside the cloud.

This difference in speed (aka velocity shear) creates vortices, resulting in the top of the cloud being pulled upward into these wave forms.

For more amazing cloud pictures, head over to the International Cloud Atlas image gallery.

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Giant Ringed Planet Likely Cause Of Mysterious Stellar Eclipses

A giant gas planet – up to fifty times the mass of Jupiter, encircled by a ring of dust – is likely hurtling around a star more than a thousand light years away from Earth, according to new research by an international team of astronomers, led by the University of Warwick.

Hugh Osborn, a researcher from Warwick’s Astrophysics Group, has identified that the light from this rare young star is regularly blocked by a large object – and predicts that these eclipses are caused by the orbit of this as-yet undiscovered planet.

Using data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) and Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT), Osborn and fellow researchers from Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and Leiden Observatory analysed fifteen years of the star’s activity.



They discovered that every two and a half years, the light from this distant star – PDS 110 in the Orion constellation, which is same temperature and slightly larger than our sun – is reduced to thirty percent for about two to three weeks. Two notable eclipses observed were in November 2008 and January 2011.

Assuming the dips in starlight are coming from an orbiting planet, the next eclipse is predicted to take place in September this year – and the star is bright enough that amateur astronomers all over the world will be able to witness it and gather new data. Only then will we be certain what is causing the mysterious eclipses.
giant ringed planet
“September’s will let us study the intricate structure around PDS 110 in detail for the first time, and hopefully prove that what we are seeing is a giant exoplanet and its moons in the process of formation,” comments Hugh Oborn.

The eclipses can also be used to discover the conditions for forming and their moons at an early time in the life of a star, providing a unique insight into forming processes that happened in our solar system.

The research, ‘Periodic Eclipses of the Young Star PDS 110 Discovered with WASP and KELT Photometry’, is due to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Greenland’s Ice Is Getting Darker, Increasing Risk Of Melting

sky

Greenland’s snowy surface has been getting darker over the past two decades, absorbing more heat from the sun and increasing snow melt, a new study of satellite data shows.

That trend is likely to continue, with the surface’s reflectivity, or albedo, decreasing by as much as 10 percent by the end of the century, the study says.

While soot blowing in from wildfires contributes to the problem, it hasn’t been driving the change, the study finds. The real culprits are two feedback loops created by the melting itself.

One of those processes isn’t visible to the human eye, but it is having a profound effect.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a ‘dirtier’ snowpack to make it dark,” said lead author Marco Tedesco, a research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and adjunct scientist at NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.




“A snowpack that might look ‘clean’ to our eyes can be more effective in absorbing solar radiation than a dirty one. Overall, what matters, it is the total amount of solar energy that the surface absorbs. This is the real driver of melting.”

The feedback loops work like this: During a warm summer with clear skies and lots of solar radiation pouring in, the surface starts to melt. As the top layers of fresh snow disappear, old impurities, like dust from erosion or soot that blew in years before, begin to appear, darkening the surface.

A warm summer can remove enough snow to allow several years of impurities to concentrate at the surface as surrounding snow layers disappear. At the same time, as the snow melts and refreezes, the grains of snow get larger.

This is because the meltwater acts like glue, sticking grains together when the surface refreezes. The larger grains create a less reflective surface that allows more solar radiation to be absorbed.

The impact of grain size on albedo, the ratio between reflected and incoming solar radiation is strong in the infrared range, where humans can’t see, but satellite instruments can detect the change.

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Graphene Supercapacitors Are About To Change The World – Here’s How

So before I can explain how super capacitors will fix this, let’s back up and explain how batteries work in the first place.

To make it simple, batteries work by moving electrons from a negatively charged material called an anode to a positively charged material called the cathode, and the device siphons off those electrons to power the device.

For instance, nickel cadmium batteries use a nickel oxide cathode and a cadmium anode. Hence the name.

This is a chemical process called oxidation that involves an electrolyte layer sandwiched between the electrodes.

In the case of the nickel cadmium batteries, they use potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte.

But this is a one-shot deal. The chemical reaction releases the electrons, but there’s no way to re-introduce electrons into the equation.

So they’re not rechargeable. And for a world increasingly reliant on portable devices, that’s just not good enough.

Enter Lithium-Ion batteries, which were developed in the 1970’s by John B. Goodenough. That’s his real name. That’s not a joke.

Lithium ion batteries have a cathode made of lithium, duh, and an anode made of carbon, again with an electrolyte between the layers to facilitate the reaction.

The difference is lithium will absorb more electrons, so it can be recharged. But it is still a chemical reaction, so it can only reintroduce those electrons at a certain charge rate.

Super capacitors work differently. Instead of using a chemical reaction to make electrons flow, also called and electrochemical process, they use static electricity, or an electrostatic process.

Now, capacitors have been in our computers for decades, and they work by holding opposite charges between two metallic plates separated by a dielectric material.

Super capacitors, as you may have already figured out, are larger versions of capacitors that use a double layer to hold more energy. In fact they’re sometimes called double-layer capacitors.

And the cool thing about them is that since the electricity is static and not chemical, there’s far less resistance to the charge. In fact, it’s almost instantaneous.

The problem is, they don’t hold that much energy. You need a vast amount of surface area to hold enough energy to make them really useful.

So Lithium Ion batteries are very energy dense, meaning they hold a lot more stored energy, but super capacitors are very power dense, meaning the transfer the energy much faster.

If, theoretically, you could create super capacitors that could hold as much as a lithium ion battery, you’d have cell phones that could recharge in seconds and it would be good for the rest of the day.

And dare we dream it? An EV car that fully charges faster than it takes to pump gas.

There is one material that could make this dream a reality. It’s called graphene.

Graphene is basically a one-atom thick lattice of carbon atoms that has some ridiculous properties. It’s 200 times stronger than steel, but incredibly light, biodegradable, biocompatible, meaning it can be used in the human body.

They say it can be used to desalinate sea water, make space elevators, and form the basis for supercomputers, but for our purposes, it also happens to be one of the most electrically capacitive substances known to man.

It has the same energy density as lithium ion batteries with the power density of super capacitors. And since it’s only one atom thick, you can pack a ton of surface area into a small space.

With any luck, in the next 10-15 years, we’ll have super capacitor batteries that can handle energy densities at industrial scales giving us quick, plentiful electricity whenever we need it.

Anker Is Launching A Campaign For Its New Line Of Wireless Earbuds

zolo

Smartphone accessory maker Anker is getting serious about audio with a new brand name and product line called Zolo. The company plans on selling its first product under the name, the Zolo Liberty+ wireless earbuds.

Although Zolo was first announced earlier this year, the Liberty+ earbuds will be the first product under the brand. The Zolo Liberty+ are slated to start shipping to backers in November 2017.

Anker CEO Steven Yang says the company is stressing three points with the Liberty+ price, smart features, and battery life. That last one makes sense — a healthy chunk of Anker’s business is in selling portable battery packs for smartphones, tablets, and pretty much any other device with a USB charging port.




To that end, Yang says the team of engineers behind the Liberty+ created a device with three and a half hours of standalone battery, with 48 hours of extra battery power stored in the Liberty+ carrying case.

For comparison, Apple’s AirPods last up to five hours on a single charge, but the case stores only 24 hours of backup battery life.

zolo

As for smart features, Yang says the Liberty+ is the first pair of wireless earbuds designed to work with all four major digital assistants: Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana.

The company has also allegedly simplified the pairing process to the point that it works almost as seamlessly as Apple’s AirPods, which rely on the special W1 chip to better bridge communication between the phone and the headphones.

Yang says the company decided to go the Kickstarter route not because it needs the funding, but rather, the company wanted to gauge interest and ensure that it was developing a product consumers would actively want.

Plus, Kickstarter allows Anker to incorporate feedback into the development process. “It’s not for the capital,” Yang says. “We want to really get a batch of loyalists and fans to grow together with the brand.”

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Your Old Cell Phone Can Help Save The Rain Forest

illegal logging

Topher White spends a lot of time walking in and thinking about the forest, and how quickly we’re losing it. So much so that he’s gotten a black eye from being smacked by flying tree branches.

But that’s just a small example of what the engineer is willing to endure to stop global deforestation. Founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Rainforest Connection, White has developed a simple but ingenious strategy: using old cell phones to listen for the sound of destruction.

Forests are disappearing worldwide, and fast: Swaths half the size of England are lost each year. The Amazon has lost close to one-fifth of its rain forest cover in the last four decades.




“I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started,” says White, who began his journey in 2011, when he traveled to Indonesian Borneo to help dwindling gibbons.

“I just kind of thought it was about protecting the small areas and animals,” “But no, [deforestation is] actually one of the biggest contributors to climate change.”

Topher White

So he has developed a system in which he rigs a cell phone to stay charged by solar cells, attaches an extra microphone, and listens. From there, the device can detect the sounds of chainsaws nearly a mile away.

And believe it or not, cell phone reception often isn’t bad in the rain forest. When you’re up in the canopy, “you can actually pick up a signal from pretty far away,” says White.

It’s not just about listening for logging. The same technology that can pick out the buzz of a chainsaw can pick out the sounds of specific birds, which is why White sees the forest recordings as a potential science tool.He is urging biologists and ecologists to use his monitoring system anywhere, whether it’s a remote forest or a park in London.

He is urging biologists and ecologists to use his monitoring system anywhere, whether it’s a remote forest or a park in London.

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This Universal Zoom Lens Lets You Zoom Your Smartphone Cameras Up To 8x!

telephoto

The camera on your mobile device has all the power, megapixels, and quality you could want. The kicker is, unlike DSLR cameras, you’re stuck with the one lens.




With this handy accessory, however, you can add some telephoto excellence to your phone, tablet, or laptop. It has a 9° angle of view and an 8x zoom for added versatility.

It’s compatible with most smartphones and tablets, and has an easy clip design. Don’t miss this great deal.

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How Fireworks Work? Here Is The Chemistry Behind A Firework Explosion

fireworks

It’s Independence Day, and that means it’s time for controlled explosions in the sky. No, not Texas post-rock, the great scientific display that is a fireworks show.

“Fireworks are an application of chemistry and engineering: you need good chemistry to get the effects up in the sky and good engineering to make sure they get to the right altitude and burst at the right time,” John Conkling, the former director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Firework shows last between 15 to 20 minutes on average, but the amount of planning and preparation that goes into producing these displays can take up to two years.




Designers need ample time to determine the right colors and shapes they want to use, and to time the explosions to the soundtrack.

There are limits on the types of chemicals you can use, however. For one, they can’t be agents that collect moisture, or else they won’t burn properly when lit.

So from its initial lighting to its final spectacular explosion, a firework’s life begins with a lit gunpowder fuse, followed by a gunpowder-boost into the sky, and finishes with an explosion of a chemical medley of fuels, oxidizers, colorants, and binders.

As you enjoy these fiery tributes this weekend, remember how much science is involved behind the rockets’ red glare.

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