28 7 / 2013

Spectacular Sprites - Ashcraft captures a large sprite hanging over West Kansas. Photos by Thomas Ashcraft

Wired:

In the blink of an eye, an enormous bright red light flashes above a thundercloud, spreading energetic branches that extend five times taller than Mount Everest and look like jellyfish tendrils and angel’s wings.

These mysterious phenomena are known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), and are usually invisible to the naked eye because they happen on millisecond timescales, too fast to be seen. They occur between 50 to 100 kilometers above the ground, a long-ignored area of the atmosphere that is too high for aircraft but too low for satellites to investigate. There, the thin air interacts with strong electrical fields to ionize molecules and create arcing plasmas.

These spectacles are relatively new to science. Pilots had reported enigmatic bright flashes throughout the 20th century, but their anecdotal evidence didn’t amount to proof. The first image of a TLE was captured accidentally in 1989 when a University of Minnesota professor aimed a low-light TV camera at the sky to film a rocket launch. Replaying the tape later on, Professor John R. Winckler saw brilliant columns of light extending from the tops of storm clouds. Hearing of the finding, NASA officials immediately ordered a review of video tapes taken from the space shuttle that looked at lightning events on Earth. They found dozens more examples of TLEs, and later scientists have been recording them ever since.

"One of the neatest things about TLEs is that first image in 1989 was just a serendipitous capture," said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, who has been photographing the events for several years.

Using a relatively simple camera and radio dish, Ashcraft has seen a whole bestiary of odd TLE phenomena. The most common are sprites, tall and highly structured bursts of light that appear above thunderstorms. They ionize the nitrogen in our atmosphere, causing a red glow. Often, they happen in conjunction with “Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources,” also known as ELVES, which are enormous halos of light that shoot outward to cover up to 500 kilometers in a millisecond. Though they are too short-lived to see, ELVES can produce bright afterglows that some people have mistaken for UFOs. Other TLEs have names like blue jets and trolls.

Above: Close-Up Sprite - The firework details of a sprite emerge in this image, captured looking over Taos, New Mexico in 2012. 

To deliver great TLE shots, Ashcraft first checks radar maps of the local area around his observatory in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Red spots on such maps indicate strong lightning cells, which increases the probability of sprite activity. Because the phenomena are mostly visible in near infrared wavelengths, he uses a modified off-the-shelf DLSR camera from which he removed the clear glass filter covering the CCD that blocks infrared light.

By taking continuous three-second exposures, Ashcraft records thousands of pictures each night. He then goes through the catalog looking for a sprite to appear. If he spots something, he can check a video camera that he has running during the night to see if captured more detail there. He shares his most interesting findings with other sprite observers, who may chime in with their own pictures from other positions.

From Santa Fe, Ashcraft says he can usually catch sprites up to 1,000 kilometers away. “I can see big storms out over the Great Plains, usually beyond Oklahoma City and into Nebraska,” he said. “After that, the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.”

Using a radio dish, Ashcraft also captures extremely low frequency emissions that the TLEs give off. He converts these into sound files, which can be heard in his videos, and can help researchers pick out details they might otherwise miss.

A lot of research regarding TLEs is still cutting-edge science, said Ashcraft. Only in recent years have scientists aimed high-speed cameras capable of capturing thousands of frames per second to study the spectacles in detail. While researchers had originally hypothesized that the phenomena were starting at the tops of thunderclouds, fast-motion videos prove that TLEs start as luminous spheres and then shoot upwards and downwards at the same time.

To read the rest of the story and look at more photos, click here.

04 4 / 2013

afracturedreality:

Salt Pond Ecosystem

The color of salt ponds range from pale green to deep coral pink, and indicate the salinity of the ponds. Microorganisms create these spectacular colors, changing their own hues in response to increasing salinity.

In low-to mid-salinity ponds, green algae proliferate and lend the water a green cast. As the salinity increases, an algae called Dunaliella out-competes other microorganisms in the pond, and the color shifts to an even lighter shade of green. In mid-salinity ponds, millions of tiny brine shrimp clarify the brine and contribute an orange cast to the water. And in mid-to high-salinity ponds, high salt concentrations actually trigger the Dunaliella to produce a red carotenoid pigment. Halophiles, such as Halobacteria and Stichococcus, also contribute red tints to the hypersaline brine.

Kite aerial photographs by Charles “Cris” Benton.

(via artsyrup)

28 11 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

This is How a Rapper’s Brain Works
The neurological roots of improvisation versus memorization are becoming a bit clearer thanks to a few brave rappers who agreed to have their noggins scanned while rhyming. What the study’s researchers found matches up well with previous analysis of improvising jazz musicians.
These fMRI studies indicate that very specific brain regions, especially those involved in word recall and creative language processing, are firing more when rappers are freestyling than when reciting memorized passages. Not exactly surprising, but a cool scientific explanation for some particular musical creativity. 
Here’s the full study in Nature.
Neatorama put it best with this flow:

Oh my God, BeckyLook at his brainIt’s so bigHe looks like one of those rap guysWho understands those rap guysThey only rap like that because of improvisation-related correlations between medial prefrontal, cingulate motor, perisylvian cortices and amygdalaI mean his brainIt’s just so bigI can’t believe it’s so brainyIt’s just out thereI mean, it’s awesome

(via NPR and Neatorama)

jtotheizzoe:

This is How a Rapper’s Brain Works

The neurological roots of improvisation versus memorization are becoming a bit clearer thanks to a few brave rappers who agreed to have their noggins scanned while rhyming. What the study’s researchers found matches up well with previous analysis of improvising jazz musicians.

These fMRI studies indicate that very specific brain regions, especially those involved in word recall and creative language processing, are firing more when rappers are freestyling than when reciting memorized passages. Not exactly surprising, but a cool scientific explanation for some particular musical creativity. 

Here’s the full study in Nature.

Neatorama put it best with this flow:

Oh my God, Becky
Look at his brain
It’s so big
He looks like one of those rap guys
Who understands those rap guys
They only rap like that because of improvisation-related correlations between medial prefrontal, cingulate motor, perisylvian cortices and amygdala
I mean his brain
It’s just so big
I can’t believe it’s so brainy
It’s just out there
I mean, it’s awesome

(via NPR and Neatorama)

25 11 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

Man in coma uses his thoughts to tell doctors, ‘I’m not in pain’
Building from a 2010 finding that comatose, “locked in” patients could respond to doctors and “communicate” by scanning their brain activity using fMRI, a “locked in” Canadian man has let his doctors know he is not in pain.
Scott Routley has been in a coma for 12 years, but thanks to scans of certain brain activity when he is asked questions, doctors are confident there is a living, aware mind at work in the patient before them. fMRI is difficult to draw a bunch of precise conclusions from, but they were able to tell that he was hearing them, responding to questions, and not in distress.
It’s sad to imagine what that must feel like, to be aware, but trapped in an unresponsive body. Bot it’s so wonderful to think how this may affect quality of life for comatose patients in the future.
Science is pretty wonderful.
(via io9)

jtotheizzoe:

Man in coma uses his thoughts to tell doctors, ‘I’m not in pain’

Building from a 2010 finding that comatose, “locked in” patients could respond to doctors and “communicate” by scanning their brain activity using fMRI, a “locked in” Canadian man has let his doctors know he is not in pain.

Scott Routley has been in a coma for 12 years, but thanks to scans of certain brain activity when he is asked questions, doctors are confident there is a living, aware mind at work in the patient before them. fMRI is difficult to draw a bunch of precise conclusions from, but they were able to tell that he was hearing them, responding to questions, and not in distress.

It’s sad to imagine what that must feel like, to be aware, but trapped in an unresponsive body. Bot it’s so wonderful to think how this may affect quality of life for comatose patients in the future.

Science is pretty wonderful.

(via io9)

24 11 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

Goldie Blox: An engineering toy set for girls that breaks up the “boys’ club”!

Debbie Sterling, a Stanford engineer, developed Goldie Blox as an engineering toy that lets young girls develop spatial reasoning and creative construction principles without pandering to them or pummeling them with princessey pink paraphernalia. It’s a non-newsflash that academic science is biased against women, but to fight that we’ve got to engage girls early, so that they are comfortable and confident in simply making science a part of their identity. I see hordes of confident, intelligent young women among my blog followers, and I’d like to see those numbers grow. 

This is exactly the toy I would want my daughters to play with, if I had any.

(I suppose I could get it for my dogs, but they would probably just eat it.)

Anyway, this looks awesome. I am not a young girl, as you may have gathered by now, but not gonna lie … I want to play with Goldie Blox.

24 11 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

Science: It’s Your Thing, a contest to highlight pro-girl science messages

Like a faint memory of an unpleasant trip to the dentist, many of you may recall the not-so-good (actually, “certifiably awful”) pro-girl-science campaign launched by the European Science Foundation earlier this year, Science: It’s A Girl Thing.

The flirty, lipstick-infused, labcoat-runway-show video that accompanied it went over like flatulence in a house of worship. But I have good news!

The ESF is putting on a contest to pick a new video for the slightly-modified campaign: Science, It’s Your Thing! Groups from all over the EU have submitted their videos, like the one above (my favorite) from Stéphane Debove.

Check out the voting page to watch them all and you can pick your favorites from now until November 28th. These look really good, leaps and bounds beyond the earlier campaign-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of. It shows that it’s not that hard to make women in science look and feel awesome if you do the simple things. Such treat them like three-dimensional living humans.

21 6 / 2012

artandsciencejournal:

Mika Aoki

In her works, Mika Aoki attempts to make viewers look differently at subjects such as viruses, reproduction and the origins of life. In these works made out of glass, Aoki imitates the micro-kingdoms we glaze over every day. For more information on Aoki’s work, click here

- Lee

19 6 / 2012

sciencesoup:

Bioluminescent bacteria

Taking cues from the firefly, a Dutch electronics company has created a product called “Bio-light”—an eco-friendly lighting system that uses glowing, bioluminescent bacteria. They’re not powered by electricity or sunlight, but by methane generated by the company’s Microbial Home bio-digester that processes anything from vegetable scraps to human waste. The living bacteria are fed through silicon tubes, and as long as they’re nutritionally-fulfilled, they can indefinitely generate a soft, heat-free green glow using the enzyme luciferase and its substrate, luciferin. They’re kept in hand-blown glass bulbs clustered together into lamps, but you can’t light up your house with them yet—the glow isn’t nearly bright enough to replace conventional artificial lights. They do, however, get people to think about untapped household energy sources and how to make use of them. The company, Phillips, also envisions the use of these Bio-lights outside the home—for nighttime road markings, signs in theatres and clubs, and even biosensors for monitoring diabetes.

14 6 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

More science/photo experiments from Caleb Charland. Couldn’t resist.

This is a simple battery made from a stack of coins and saltwater-soaked paper. A grade-school science experiment, but a photo that captures the simple “wow” feeling of an experiment, don’t you think?

FastCo.Design has a gallery that you won’t want to miss. He is one of the most creative capturers of curiosities working out there, if you ask me. And no Photoshop on any of them!

(via Co.Design)

10 6 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

Ray Bradbury reading his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been”

In November 1971, we were locked in yet another space race, albeit a quieter one. Americans had already begun to grow bored with the Apollo program, as the final two missions were to be launched in 1972, those primarily being very expensive geology expeditions.

Then Mariner 9 was launched. We were in a race with the USSR to put a spacecraft in orbit around another planet. In November of 1971, we did it. I’m not sure that Americans were by any means excited about it, but they should have been. Just as we must stay excited about our progress yet to come.

Ray Bradbury joined Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan and others at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena to commemorate the mission’s success. Here he reads his poem "If Only We Had Taller Been", an ode to exploration, and a fitting tribute to his legacy as a writer and dreamer. In full above (with a captivated Sagan included) and excerpted below:

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall

Across the Void, across the Universe and all?

And, measure out with rocket fire,

At last put Adam’s finger forth

As on the Sistine Ceiling,

And God’s great hand come down the other way

To measure Man and find him Good,

And Gift him with Forever’s Day?

I work for that.

Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth

between my ears,

Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.

Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:

We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!

We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!

(via Boing Boing)

06 6 / 2012

jtotheizzoe:

Venus Enters the Solar Disk

Here’s a video of Venus as it crosses over in front of the Sun’s face. The true scale of our solar system is represented here, in amazing clarity. Venus looks as if it’s going to be swallowed up by the Sun, burned to a planetary crisp … but then you remember that it’s still 108 million kilometers away.

Tune in live.

(images captured from NASA’s transit feed)