Category Archives: Physics

Super Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse

A moderately rare “super blood moon” lunar eclipse will be viewable in the sky tonight for those living in North and South America. However, the word “super” should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. It’ll be slightly larger than average because of its position in orbit, but you probably won’t notice the difference. What you will notice is the reddish color.

Here’s the schedule for Americans again. For most of the country, the moon will be low above the eastern horizon. For people in Colorado, it’ll be in eclipse when it rises. It’ll begin to move into the earth’s shadow at 9:07 P.M. Eastern Time. The eclipse will begin with a bite out of its lower left side.

Note: The previous paragraph should have said “west of Colorado” instead of “in Colorado.”

It’ll take just over an hour for the moon to pass completely into earth’s shadow, and its last sliver will slip into darkness at 10:11. It’ll stay dark for more than an hour; then start to lighten again at 11:23, and be completely out of earth’s shadow at 27 minutes after midnight. Don’t forget to adjust for your time zone.

People in Europe and Africa can see the eclipse in the early hours after midnight.

super blood moon lunar eclipse over water
super blood moon lunar eclipse over water

A blood moon is a special lunar eclipse. It happens when Earth completely blocks sunlight from reaching the moon except for a ring of light refracting through the atmosphere. Instead of going dark, the moon is lit by that refracted light that leaks around the planet, essentially reflecting all of Earth’s sunsets and sunrises onto the surface of the moon at once and giving it its reddish color.

A super moon is when the moon is nearest Earth in its orbit, so it appears as much as 14% larger in area than average. When the two events happen together, we call it a super blood moon lunar eclipse.

See my previous post here for more info.

If you miss it for any reason, you can view it here later: Video: Missed the Blood Moon? Watch the Event Unfold Through NASA’s Footage.

The next total lunar eclipse won’t happen until January 2018.


Source:

  • NASA
  • Bill’s Blog

Super Blood moons in prophecy? Really?

John Hagee is wrong. The flamboyant and ego-inflated pastor of the huge Cornerstone megachurch of San Antonio likes prophecy and signs in the sky. He believes the sky is “God’s billboard,” and that God is writing messages on it for us. The “super blood moon” is supposed to be one of those messages. Not for the first time, Pastor John Hagee is wrong. (No, he’s not the only one. Others are making similar claims. He’s just probably the most prominent one.)

Super Blood Moon Schedule

There is nothing mysterious or even very unusual about the eclipse we’re going to have in a couple of days. Even the word “super” is misleading. Yes, because of its position in orbit, it’ll look a little bit larger than usual; but not so much you’re likely to notice it. Take all the hype with a grain of salt.

In just two days, on the night of Sunday, September 27th, 2015, if the weather permits, a “rare super blood moon” lunar eclipse will be visible in the night sky for people in North and South America. (Well, it’s unusual, but not really all that rare.)

Here’s the schedule. For most of the country, the moon will be low above the eastern horizon. For people in Colorado, it’ll be in eclipse when it rises. It’ll begin to move into the earth’s shadow at 9:07 P.M. Eastern Time. The eclipse will begin with a bite out of its lower left side.

It’ll take just over an hour for the moon to pass completely into earth’s shadow, and its last sliver will slip into darkness at 10:11. It’ll stay dark for more than an hour; then start to lighten again at 11:23, and be completely out of earth’s shadow at 27 minutes after midnight. Don’t forget to adjust for your time zone.

People in Europe and Africa can see the eclipse in the early hours after midnight.

super blood moon

A “super moon” is when the moon is nearest Earth in its orbit, so it appears as much as 14% larger than when it is farther away. This happens because its orbit around earth — like all orbits — is an ellipse, not a circle.

A “blood moon” is an eclipse when the moon happens to be exactly — or almost exactly — in the plane of earth’s orbit around the sun. The moon’s orbit around earth is tilted about five degrees with respect to earth’s orbit around the sun, so the moon crosses the plane of earth’s orbit about every 14 days.

When this coincides with a lunar eclipse, earth comes between the sun and the moon, almost shutting off all light from the sun to the moon. The only sunlight reaching the moon then is refracted around the earth by its atmosphere. Instead of going dark, the moon is lit dimly by that refracted light that leaks around the planet, essentially refracting all of Earth’s sunsets and sunrises onto the surface of the moon at one time and giving it a deep reddish color. We have a “blood moon.”

When the two events happen together, like this time, we call it a “super blood moon” lunar eclipse. It’s unusual, but it’s not mysterious; and there’s absolutely nothing supernatural about it.

The next total lunar eclipse won’t happen until January 2018. If you miss this one for any reason, you can view it here later: Missed the Blood Moon? Watch the Event Unfold Through NASA’s Footage.

Here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson, everybody’s favorite astrophysicist, discussing a previous “blood moon.”

For more information about eclipses in general, watch Crash Course Astronomy with Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer.


Sources:

THERMODYNAMICS: SECOND LAW OF

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Thermodynamics in action.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Thermodynamics in action.

On March 1, I briefly discussed what the First Law of Thermodynamics has to do with biological evolution.

I concluded quickly the First Law of Thermodynamics has nothing at all to do with evolution.

If you wish, you can review it here. It starts like this:

Thermodynamics! Doesn’t using that word make me sound smart? Unless you’re a scientist or an exceptionally well informed layman — layperson, sorry — I can say just about anything I want to about thermodynamics and you aren’t likely to know the difference. Right? If you just happen to be that scientist or exceptional layperson, then you know it is the science of heat and other forms of energy and how they relate to each other and to matter.

Since I was a young man, I’ve often heard creationists state authoritatively that the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids biological evolution. These creationists are not scientists, of course. With few exceptions, they’re just people who slept through high school physics class and didn’t even take Biology because they were afraid of the dreaded E word. Evolution! But they heard somebody say “thermodynamics” and it sounded good to them.

I think I can safely claim to be an “exceptionally well informed layperson” on this subject, because I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to be informed about everything, but I’ve been informing myself about various scientific matters for a long time. I still find articles on thermodynamics that I don’t fully understand, but this part is easy.

I meant to discuss the second law within the next few days, but I got sidetracked. Sorry. Here is that very brief discussion now, and a substantial part of what I said about the first law also applies to the second.

Second Law of Thermodynamics:
Entropy in a closed system tends to increase.

That’s all. It really is that simple.

Entropy is a measure of disorder, and a closed (or isolated) system is any system that neither receives energy or matter from the outside nor passes its own energy or matter to the outside. The only completely closed system we know of is the universe, and we aren’t even sure of that!

But there are some systems that are almost closed. For example, a Styrofoam box with a lid is a semi-closed system. Fill it with ice and it’ll stay cold for a long time, but the ice will eventually melt because energy in the form of heat slowly seeps in through the sides of the box. It’s not truly closed, or isolated from the outside world. Even though the system is only partially closed, you’ll be able to see easily that entropy has increased, because the ice will be gone and water will have taken its place.

One of the most picturesque examples often given to illustrate this law is the observation that eggs break easily, but they never un-break. Remember, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Books fall off a table, but they rarely jump back up onto it. Fuel gets burned, but it never gets unburned. Food spoils. but it doesn’t become fresh again.

So what does this have to do with biological evolution? Evolution is considered to be a decrease in entropy, which is said to be impossible in a closed system like earth. And that’s a violation of the second law, right?

Earth is not a closed system. Not even close.

Well, no. Because earth is by no means a closed system. Earth gets a huge influx of energy from the sun 24 hours a day. (When it’s dark here, it’s daylight somewhere else.) Besides that, there is a constant rain of meteors adding both matter and energy to the planet. Radioactive isotopes decay all through the planet, changing small amounts of matter into large amounts of energy. Several other more obscure sources of energy also constantly reach our planet.

There is one way the increase in entropy can be reversed. Energy pumped in from the outside can do the trick. Note that if energy is being pumped in from the outside, we do NOT have a closed system. Therefore, the Second Law of Thermodynamics says absolutely NOTHING about entropy or evolution on earth. Or anything else on earth, for that matter.

Next time a creationist tells you the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids evolution, you’ll know he/she has no idea what he/she is talking about.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamics

Cosmos 2014

[youtube_video XFF2ECZ8m1A]
I sent the following email to a few of my family and closest friends a few minutes ago, and then I realized I should post it here, too. Just in case anybody decides to tune in here.
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Some of you will remember the original Cosmos TV series from 30 years ago or so, featuring Carl Sagan. Do you know there’s a new Cosmos series that began 3-9? (You may have already missed 2 weeks of it. I missed the first episode, but I assure you I will not miss any more if I can help it.)
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Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, has teamed up with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, to create this new 13-week series. Tyson hosts the show excellently. Maybe even better than Sagan did. I’ve had tremendous respect for Druyan since she worked with her husband on the original series, and I’ve admired Tyson equally for years. This new series uses up-to-date computer graphics and includes new information that Sagan could not, because nobody knew it then. Those of you who enjoy learning about the magnificent universe we live in will not want to miss it.
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Take your pick of several channels. It’s on Fox News and National Geographic; I get it on Public Television; and there are two or three more. It shows Sunday evening at 9 pm EDT. That’s 8:00 pm in Texas and — I guess — 6:00 pm on the west coast. (Sorry, Perry. I don’t know if it’s showing in New Zealand or not. I hope it is. Even you will enjoy it.) If you won’t be home, it is worth recording to watch later.
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Nope, they aren’t paying me anything to promote the show. I just think it’s that great.
Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

International Women’s Day

Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy Hodgkin

According to Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution Is True, today is International Women’s Day. He honors Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), who won her Nobel Prize in 1964 for studies of “the structure of crystals of great chemical interest”.

Coyne writes that Hodgkin “became interested in crystallography at the age of 10 (!), and, after attending Oxford, went to Cambridge to study under J. P. Bernal, a polymath known as ‘Sage.’ Her tireless efforts (which involved designing apparatus and the extremely complex method of calculating molecular structure) helped launch the field of X-ray chrystallography. She won the Nobel for those efforts, which led to her determining the molecular structure of penicillin, vitamin B12, and (after her prize), of insulin.”

She is “the only British woman who has won a Nobel Prize in science.”

Marie Curie
Marie Curie

I apologize for not realizing sooner that today had been designated as a day for honoring women. I would have written about Marie Curie (1867 – 1934), who discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium, and who established the first military field radiological centers to treat the wounded during World War I.

Curie literally gave her life for her science,  dying of aplastic anemia brought on by exposure to radiation (a word she coined).

I will not begin now and do a half-way job. Maybe next year. Maybe sooner, for that matter.

Thermodynamics? What’s that?

Thermodynamics! Doesn’t using that word make me sound smart? Unless you’re a scientist or an exceptionally well informed layman — layperson, sorry — I can say just about anything I want to about thermodynamics and you aren’t likely to know the difference. Right? If you just happen to be that scientist or exceptional layperson, then you know what it is:

Thermodynamics is the science of heat and other forms of energy and how they relate to each other and to matter.

Since I was a young man, I’ve often heard creationists state authoritatively that the Second Law of Thermodynamics forbids biological evolution. These creationists are not scientists, of course. With few exceptions, they’re just people who slept through high school physics class and didn’t even take Biology because they were afraid of the dreaded E word. Evolution! But they heard somebody say “thermoynamics” and it sounded good to them.

I knew a little about the subject from my high school and college physics and biology classes (Which I did NOT sleep through. I slept through history and grammar classes instead.) but I wasn’t much of a skeptic back then. Also,  I was still a creationist myself, so I didn’t really think much about it. Still, it never made much sense to me.

In recent years I have become fascinated with both physics and evolution, and have studied both extensively. I’ll never be a scientist, but I’m confident that I can claim to have become a well informed layman about both subjects. So it is entirely natural that I have become interested in answering this question. And I have learned there is absolutely no basis for the claim. This is not just my own opinion, either. The vast majority of all scientists agree with me. (Or I agree with them. Or something.)

Anyway, just recently, I was informed by a creationist that evolution also violates the First Law of Thermodynamics (as well as the Second). This is absolute nonsense. There is no connection at all.

The First Law of Thermodynamics is also known as the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, and it simply states that the sum total of matter and energy in the universe never changes.

It  can be expressed in more technical terms and sometimes includes a few equations — trust a scientist to make things complicated, of course — but it all boils down to just that.

What this implies is that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Either can be converted to the other, and energy can be converted from one form to another; but the sum total of them never changes. Obviously, we can’t prove this is always 100% true all over the universe, but it makes sense. As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music a generation or two ago (and as I have been reminded recently), “Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” At least, nobody has ever found an exception to the rule, and physicists believe it’s universal. For whatever it’s worth, I agree.

So what does this have to do with evolution? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s just an opportunity for people who don’t understand what they’re talking about to misuse scientific language and lead people into error with their big words.

The First Law of Thermodynamics has exactly NOTHING to do with biological evolution.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamics

 

In a few days, I’ll write a little more about the SECOND Law of Thermodynamics and why it has nothing to do with evolution on earth, either. The reason is obvious to scientists and should be obvious to informed laymen, but it doesn’t always seem to be. After all, nothing is obvious until you think of it. So I’ll explain in very simple terms exactly why this particular natural law has nothing to do with the evolution we see around us.

4,374,000,000 year-old zircon

[youtube_video Lnqb_5JOpP8]

(This post has been updated to add new information and — hopefully — to simplify it.)

This tiny, almost microscopic sliver of zircon, just the length that four human hairs are wide and said to be just slightly larger than a dust mite, is literally older than the hills. Older than any of the hills on earth, that is. At 4.374 billion years — yup, that’s Billion with a B — it’s almost as old as the planet itself. Earth is only estimated to be approximately 4.5 billion years old. (Only??? Only 4.5 billion years???)

Next time you hear somebody opine that the world and the universe were created in six literal 24-hour days about six or nine thousand years ago,  you’ll remember how incredibly carefully these scientists studied a few tiny zircon shards and found them to be many, many times older. 750,000 times older!

IBM Atomic Text
IBM Atomic Text

When I was in high school almost 60 years ago, it was believed we’d NEVER be able to see atoms with any kind of microscope. Atoms were said to be just too incredibly tiny to ever be seen. Now you can see them right here. (No, I haven’t changed the subject. I’m still telling the same story, but with a slight diversion.)

Only 30 or so years later, IBM showed they could not only see atoms but move them around on a  contrasting surface to form a message.

It must have been fun, because they didn’t stop there. They went ahead and made the world’s tiniest video by moving individual atoms, frame by frame, and then magnifying them a hundred million times. Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

[youtube_video oSCX78-8-q0]

A competing group of scientists — No, not competing with IBM. Competing with the ones studying the rocks. — Anyway, the competing scientists said “No, these rocks are only 3.8 billion years old.” You might think, “So what? That’s still older than God.” But it does matter, because the world and the whole solar system only formed about 4.5 billion years ago; so these rocks were formed less than two hundred million years after that. I know, two hundred million years is still a long time. But it’s a lot less than the seven hundred million years implied by the other group of scientists. It matters. It matters a lot to science.

So what did the original discoverers do? They chose another one of the hundred or so methods of testing the age of rocks, and they did the whole thing again the hard way. These methods are not quick or easy. They are time consuming, tedious, expensive, and complicated. But they work.

Now these scientists have actually counted every single individual atom of the lead contaminating one of these zircon slivers so they could date it with one of the many OTHER radioactive half-life methods available for dating rocks. The lead was an impurity, because pure zircons don’t contain any lead; so every single atom of it had to be accounted for before the testing could be done. They used a technology similar to IBM’s to count the atoms.

This second dating method confirmed the first and improved on it. The first had dated the formation of the rocks at 4.4 billion years ago. The second was more accurate, and provided the better formation date at 4.374 billion years ago. Well “within tolerances” of the first, but far more precise.

The original zircon had been destroyed in the original testing, but they used another one from the same place to test again. And came up with the same result, only more precise. 4.374 instead of the earlier 4.4.

You can’t get much more careful about your procedures than that. This is science at its best, and it is exactly how science is supposed to work. A cynic will say, “See? They were wrong. They can’t even date the rocks twice and come up with the same answer.” The truth is they did. It was the same answer, but more precise. Science seldom works by overthrowing what has already been learned. It progresses by making the answers even more accurate.

Side note: It turns out the competing scientists were right, too. Their rocks from the same area were just 3.8 billion years old. An ancient volcano in the area had erupted at least 50 times in the distant past and formed that many layers of rock of different ages in the same general location.

The two groups of scientists were working so close together that they assumed originally they were working with the same age of rocks, but they were not. With that understanding, it all makes sense. Once again, it’s great science.

Thanks, Bill and Steve

Thanks to Bill Moyers and Steve Mirsky for letting us know about this guy.

How can an ignoramus like this get elected to Congress? Much less become Chairman of the Science Subcommittee on Oversight of  the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? He doesn’t understand the science he is supposed to regulate. He thinks it is “lies from the pit of hell.”

I first read about Paul Broun in Scientific American, December2012, Antigravity, by Steve Mirsky. He was in this position then, and he still is. As well as being a member of several other important committees.

Surely the State of Georgia can do better than to let this man run un-opposed again. Get him out of the House of Representatives and back into medical practice where he can only hurt one person at a time.

On second thought, he ought to have his license to practice medicine revoked, too. Do you really want a doctor who thinks that much of what he was taught in medical school is “straight from the pit of hell”? Including not just evolution and cosmology, but embryology, too?

And if Georgia won’t stop electing him, isn’t there at least some way to get him off any science-related committees?

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