July 15, 2013 2:20 pm
Screaming volcanoes, in addition to being a fantastic name for a punk band, are a real world phenomenon. Some volcanoes actually do “scream,” emitting a tea-kettle-like screech prior to eruption.
In 2009, scientists recorded Alaskan volcano Redoubt making this sound, which they call a harmonic tremor. This recording condenses 10 minutes of sound into 10 seconds:
They also recorded one hour worth of rumbling earthquakes prior to eruption. They then sped up the recording, so that each earthquake sounds like a drumbeat. Here you can listen to the earthquake drumbeats increasing in tempo.
According to the University of Washington, it’s not really clear where exactly these noises come from:
Some volcanoes emit sound when magma – a mixture of molten rock, suspended solids and gas bubbles – resonates as it pushes up through thin cracks in the Earth’s crust.
But [University of Washington doctoral student Alicia] Hotovec-Ellis believes in this case the earthquakes and harmonic tremor happen as magma is forced through a narrow conduit under great pressure into the heart of the mountain. The thick magma sticks to the rock surface inside the conduit until the pressure is enough to move it higher, where it sticks until the pressure moves it again.
Essentially, each time the magma moves, it creates a small earthquake. By the time the volcano is ready to explode, the quakes are happening so quickly that they become one sound.
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July 15, 2013 11:51 am
Tomorrow night, some of baseball’s biggest stars will gather at Citi Field in Queens, New York, for the annual All-Star game. The All-Star game is typically just a fun exhibition of Major League Baseball’s best players. The winners get bragging rights; the winning league gets the added bonus of home field advantage in the World Series.
This year though, there is a pall over the normally upbeat All-Star Break, a period of a few days around the All-Star Game when no baseball games are played. Around 20 baseball players are under investigation for the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
The Miami New Times broke the story in January, after they got a hold of records from the now-closed Biogenesis clinic. They found names of players like All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun all over the notes and spreadsheets.
Rodriguiez has flatly denied the allegation, and met with MLB investigators last Friday.
The Boston Globe raises some potential problems with the case:
But here are the issues that some sports attorneys bring up: Can MLB make the suspensions stick on appeal given what could be the lack of positive tests (except on Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, who served 50-game suspensions), the fact that MLB had to pay its main witness, and would the evidence gathered and interviews conducted be enough?
MLB doesn’t need positive tests per se to nail the players, but it needs credible evidence, and more witnesses than Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch. MLB could always claim it had to pay a witness because it doesn’t have subpoena power.
Superstars Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, who appear prominently in the Biogenesis evidence, have not officially tested positive for PEDs. Braun tested positive but the evidence was ruled contaminated by an arbiter, and Braun was cleared of the charges.
A-Rod has admitted PED use, but he has never failed a test that has counted.
If the MLB decides that their players were using drugs, they could suspend the players for either 50 or 100 games.
That’s a big deal. There are 162 games in a baseball season. Going into the All-Star break, teams have played well over half of the games in the season, so after the All-Star game is when the playoff race really starts. To have a star player suspended during this critical time could have a devastating effect of the team’s chances of making it to the October playoffs. Though, to be fair, some teams collapse anyway, without doping players as an excuse.
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July 12, 2013 5:10 pm
From the late 1960s until 2000, there were only 21 earthquakes a year with a magnitude greater than 3 in the Midwest. But from 2010-2012, the region experienced over 300.
In a paper in Science, researchers think they may have found a reason for the uptick—water being injected deep into the earth. Wastewater wells from hydraulic fracturing and mineral exploration operations have proliferated throughout the region. Other papers have already shown that those activities could cause earthquakes. Drilling makes the ground in those areas more vulnerable to seismic stresses, including from violent, large-scale quakes in places as far away as Chile and Japan.
From the New York Times:
When waste water is injected into rock formations, it increases pressure enough that long-dormant faults are primed to slip once again, shaking the earth. Dr. van der Elst suggested that small stresses from the passing seismic waves in effect “squeezed” the rocks at the injection sites, raising the pressure past the tipping point so that the faults slip and the earth shakes.
Some of these areas had even stronger quakes months later — notably Prague, Okla., where a 5.7 quake occurred in 2011 — a further indication that the faults had reached a tipping point.
But fossil fuel drilling sites aren’t the only places where humanity is running into a rocky dilemma. In another paper from the same issue of Science, geologists at the Salton Sea geothermal field also found that sites where water was injected and extracted from the ground were correlated with increased seismicity.
The USGS called for more data, noting that the current information reported to regulatory agencies is spotty at best:
One risk-management approach highlighted in [USGS geophysicist and author of a review of the Science paper] Ellsworth’s article involves the setting of seismic activity thresholds for safe operation. Under this “traffic-light” system, if seismic activity exceeds preset thresholds, reductions in injection would be made. If seismicity continued or escalated, operations could be suspended.
The current regulatory framework for wastewater disposal wells was designed to protect drinking water sources from contamination and does not address earthquake safety. Ellsworth noted that one consequence is that both the quantity and timeliness of information on injection volumes and pressures reported to the regulatory agencies is far from ideal for managing earthquake risk from injection activities.
Thus, improvements in the collection and reporting of injection data to regulatory agencies would provide much-needed information on conditions potentially associated with induced seismicity. In particular, said Ellsworth, daily reporting of injection volumes, and peak and average injection pressures would be a step in the right direction, as would measurement of the pre-injection water pressure and tectonic stress.
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July 12, 2013 2:56 pm
The Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan and currently headed by Bill Nye, is keeping a sharp eye on the skies. The group has the stated mission to “Create a better future by exploring other worlds and understanding our own.” But they are also looking out for asteroids that might threaten the Earth’s personal space, and they are actively planning out what to do when they find one.
Their mission is simple: avert Armageddon using the best possible research. Member scientists have been working on solutions for quite some time now and just yesterday they released some preview literature of their asteroid-fighting weapons: Laser Bees.
Unfortunately, this does not mean genetically altered bees with laser-beam stingers and the ability to fly through space (though that would be a great SyFy movie plot).
It does mean a swarm of small spacecraft equipped with lasers which would blast the incoming asteroid, altering it’s course to a non-Earth-obliterating path. It’s a popular line of inquiry, and other groups are also working on laser beam powered asteroid-diverting solutions.
From the Planetary Society’s Bruce Betts:
Both the technical paper and the poster report on their progress in measuring the zapping of rocks in a vacuum chamber with a high-powered laser. They measure various things like temperature at the spot the laser hits the rock, the development of the hole caused by the laser, the development of the plume of vaporized rock, and the deposition on materials in the chamber. All of this allows them to improve models of what would happen if you used a spacecraft (or multiple spacecraft) with an even higher powered laser to zap a dangerous asteroid to move it to a safe orbit. Bottom line: their measurements went well and have provided insights into changes to be made to the conceptual model. And they noticed not just rock vapor comes out of the hole, but also unvaporized rock kicked out by the vaporizing rock — another thing to account for in understanding the process. A new round of experiments will be run later this summer that will provide different measurements on a variety of materials.
July 11, 2013 4:27 pm
Sometimes social media works just a little too well. A park employee posted a video of herself cooking an egg in a covered skillet, using just the heat of the desert environs to cook up a lovely breakfast snack.
The video became incredibly popular and inspired many park visitors to try their own culinary science experiment. But, apparently they haven’t been using the same controlled conditions. It got so messy that Death Valley National Park actually issued a statement on their Facebook page, begging visitors to leave the eggs at home.
Unfortunately, many visitors are neglecting to use a skillet or tin foil and are just leaving drippy egg bits everywhere.
“[The video] was intended to demonstrate how hot it can get here, with the recommendation that if you do this, use a pan or tin foil and properly dispose of the contents,” read the statement. “The Death Valley NP maintenance crew has been busy cleaning up eggs cracked directly on the sidewalk, including egg cartons and shells strewn across the parking lot.”
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