Category Archives: Science

Gadzooks – It’s Our Anniversay

Trail Baboon has reached a milestone – TEN YEARS!  In honor of our anniversary, I am re-running a piece from our first week (with Dale’s approval!)   I was going to change the question, but it’s turned out to be eerily prescient in our current situation.

SIX MEN IN A TUB
An intriguing human experiment has begun in the western part of Moscow at the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

Six men just started a 520 day “mission” to Mars.  They are enclosed in “a series of windowless steel capsules” for the duration, with enough food and activities and chores to keep them busy.  There’s also ample time for relaxation.  The “voyagers” will have to exercise two hours a day but will only be able to shower once a week.

Uh oh.

There are many obstacles to overcome in a real journey to Mars.  There would have to be a shield to protect the humans from solar radiation.   And psychologists predict that one the greatest emotional hazards is the likelihood that the crew would begin to grow tired of each other’s company.   But at least in a genuine Martian trip there would be a sense of excitement and anticipation of arriving on the planet – something that’s missing in this effort.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle in this make believe exercise is to get six grownups to pretend for almost a year and a half that they can’t just walk out for a smoke or a bit of vodka.   After all, it takes skilled actors years of training to get you to suspend reality for two hours on a stage.  How long can fact-based scientists and researchers last?

Because a similar effort ten years ago ended badly (sexual harassment allegations, fistfights), the mission commander is quoted in an AP article as saying “Each crew member has the right to end the experiment and walk out.  We have had such negative experience in the past, and I hope it won’t happen during this experiment.”

Double uh oh.

Which guy will make a bid to scuttle the mission after 500 days because he can’t stand “Commander Flatulence” or would just like to get out and feel the sunshine? The longer you’re in, the greater the pressure to stay in.  And the longer you’re in, the greater the leverage for anyone who threatens to leave.

This sounds like a twisted reality show disguised as a scientific experiment.  All it needs a name and a theme song, like that ditty that introduced “The Brady Bunch”.

Here’s the story of a group of fellas
Who were simulating flying into space.
They were scientists and they all liked each other
Which is not commonplace.

They’re pretending to go to a planet.
If you’re Martian it’s the place that you belong.
In the movies when the Martians meet the Earthlings,
they never get along.

Till this mission where these fellas met this planet.
Well not really but they tried to make believe.
They had almost made it there when it started.
That’s when everyone declared “I’m going to leave.”

I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
I can’t stand you, and you, and you I’m going to leave.
I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
This is Moscow we’re on Earth I’m going to leave!

What would you need to survive 520 days enclosed in a series of windowless steel capsules with five other people, all pretending that you can’t go outside?

 

To Baader-Meinhof or Not to Baader-Meinhof? That is the Question.

Photo Credit:  Hulki Okan Tabak

A few weeks ago a friend came over for some socially distant muffins and tea.  We had a wonderful time chatting in the backyard about all kinds of things.  At one point she recommended a series called “Walking Through History”.  The host walks around Britain and archaeologists and historians pop out of the surrounding country add information as he walks.  Sounded like my cup of tea so I searched it out.

I didn’t actually binge watch it but over the next couple of weeks, I had seen them all.  The host, Tony Robinson, seemed vaguely familiar, so I googled him.  Turns out he is SIR Tony Robinson, an English actor and host and he seemed familiar because he played Baldrick in the “Black Adder” show a gazillion years ago.  I read through his entire Wikipedia page and found that he has had a fascinating career of acting, presenting and writing and has made charity part of his life’s work.

I’m waiting for a DVD of Black Adder from the library (to re-watch) and have checked out Bad Kids: Naughtiest Children in History .  It was very funny – a kids’ book about various ways in which kids are raised (and punished) in various cultures throughout history.  There are quite a few children’s books about history in his bibliography.

Another thing that caught my eye in his biography was a television show that ran for 20 seasons on BBC called “Time Team”.  A group of archaeologists and historians (and Tony Robison as presenter) go someplace in Britain (often invited by a town or home owner) to look into the history of some ruin – they give themselves 3-5 days and then present their findings.  It took me a bit to find it, but eventually I did – on demand cable – all 20 seasons.  It’s fascinating.  I’ve watched 2 seasons so far.

So imagine my surprise when this morning, while reading In the Woods, a murder mystery that takes place in an archaeological site by Tana French (which has been on my shelf for a few years and I’m just getting to), I found this:

“How’s the dig going?” Cassie asked sociably.
One corner of Mark’s mouth twisted sourly.  “How do you think?  We’ve got four weeks to do a year’s work.  We’ve been using bulldozers.”
“And that’s not a good thing?” I said.
He glared at me.  “Do we look like the f***ing Time Team?”

French then adds a couple of sentences explaining Time Team for those readers who don’t happen to be binge watching it this week.

I’m sure a mathematician can probably explain the odds of this occurrence, but I’m thinking there just has to be magic involved.  And maybe dragons.

For what kind of show would you like to be a presenter?

Science

On this day in 1752, Benjamin Franklin conducted his experiment with electricity and the kite. He invented the lightening rod.

I never could understand why my cousin Carol and and her husband had all theses lightening rods on the roof of their very old farm house in Pipestone County.  Why would you want to attract lightening?

I avoided hard science classes in High School and college at all costs. Now, I regret it. I wish I knew more of Physics. I think Physics is a way to understand God. What a coward I was!

What are you experiences in science classes?  What about kites?

Auto Update

Finally – some science I can completely get behind! An article last week declared that drivers of expensive cars are jerks.

One study measured this by clocking vehicles at various crossroads. It found that drivers of more “flashy vehicles” are less likely to stop for pedestrians.  And not just that, but as the cost of the car goes up, the likelihood that the driver will even slow down decreases.  The researchers speculate that luxury car owners “feel a sense of superiority over other road users” and were thus less able to empathize with lowly sidewalk-dwellers.  And I’m sure no one will be surprised that the race and gender of the pedestrian matters as well.

Apparently this discovery of a car-value-to-jerkish-behavior correlation isn’t new; The Journal of Transport and Health, backed up a Finnish study published in January found that men who own flashy vehicles are more likely to be “argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic.” According to the study “these personality traits explain the desire to own high-status products, and the same traits also explain why such people break traffic regulations more frequently than others.”

Obviously no one wants to tar every single luxury-car owner with one broad brush, but the generalities don’t look good. We just have to worry about how all the small, cheap, beater car owners will now feel smug!

What’s one extra component you’d like to have on your car? Extra smugness points to anybody who doesn’t have a car!!

Small But Mighty

I made a quick trip to Bismarck one morning a week or so ago, and on the way back I noticed that the tire light had gone on, indicating that there were uneven  pressures in the van tires.  I didn’t give it much thought as the tire light always seems to be going on in the winter  when there are lots of temperature variations.  I drove back to town and back to work and parked in my usual spot. At 4:50 pm, two of the secretaries contacted to me tell me that one of my rear van tires was completely flat.

It was one of the days when Husband was out of town on the Rez. There was no way I could change the tire myself, so I phoned Jeff’s Towing, a business about 4 blocks from my work. Jeff zipped right over with his tow truck,  filled the tire, and had me follow him to his gas station. In twenty minutes he had repaired the tire and I drove back to work.  He charged me $35 for the repair. The three square plastic pieces in the header photo are what had punctured the tire. I was amazed such small things could do so much damage. Jeff told me that front tires fling objects backwards toward the rear tires as you speed down the highway, and these three little pieces had probably been flung into my back tire with great power.

What in your life has been small but mighty? Got any flat tire stories?

Too Hot to Handle

KELT 9-B seems an innocuous-enough name for an exoplanet. It was discovered in 2017 and is apparently an “ultra-hot Jupiter” – huge gas giants hotter than anything in our solar system.  In fact, some of the new data coming in suggests that it is three times larger than our Jupiter and approximately  7,800 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface.  So hot in fact, that hydrogen atoms are shredded by the heat during the daytime and can only re-form until they appear on the dark side of the planet; KELT 9-B is tidally locked to its star, so the hot side always faces its sun.

It’s amazing to me that we can figure this stuff out since we can’t just look it up on the internet. All the data on KELT 9-B has come from two robotic telescopes in the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope project, one telescope in South Africa and the other in southern Arizona.  And of course, it makes me wonder how a planet like KELT 9-B comes into existence.  And can it survive its own heat?

How do you cool down when you’re angry?

King of the Mountain

The other day I happened to look out the window as three squirrels were playing… I can only call it King of the Mountain – they were taking turns being on top of the snow piles, alternating with a round of Hide and Seek, followed by more King of the Mountain. (Turns out it’s as important for animals to play as it is for humans, according to Dr. Gray, see below.)

There is precious little outdoor play happening around our neighborhood – the one family whose kids would regularly be out playing during the warmer months has moved away. I see several kids walk by afternoons after the school bus deposits them, but I seldom hear see/hear them later on.

So this article, based on the work of Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist, caught my eye yesterday, about what has happened to Play here in our tightly scheduled culture. In the article, “for an activity to truly be considered play, it must:

– be self-chosen and self-directed

– be done for its own sake and not an outside reward

– have some sort of rules/structure

– have an element of imagination

– be conducted in an alert frame of mind.”

Then I found the TED Talk by Dr. Gray, which is even better (16 minutes).

He points out that kids are now more depressed and anxious, largely due to no longer having an internal sense of control over their lives that comes from experiencing plenty of real play. Adequate play allows children to learn to solve problems, get along with peers and practice empathy, be creative and innovative.

Here on The Trail we have told stories of our various play exploits in freer times, and have lamented the loss of this kind of childhood. At the end of his talk, Peter Gray suggests some ways for us to get play back into the lives of children, but first let’s give our baboons here a shot at it:

What changes would you make in our homes, schools, and neighborhoods that would allow more true play to exist for children?

Space Discovery

Photo credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

For all space geeks, the news this week is that a high school student, on his third day of interning at NASA, discovered a planet. For all Star Wars geeks, it turns out that it’s not just your ordinary planet, but a very rare circumbinary planet with two suns, like Tatooine, the planet where Luke Skywalker grew up.

He made the discovered this past July at the very beginning of his internship; he and other astronomers have spent the last six months confirming the find. The planet is now called TOI 1338b and looks to be almost 7 times bigger than Earth.

Apparently not only are circumbinary planets rare, they are even rarer to find since the way that most planets are confirmed don’t work due to timing of the planet passing in front of its stars.   So this is quite an auspicious start for the high-schooler who has said that he does intend to continue his studies in astronomy and astrophysics.

If you could be known as the discoverer of something, what would it be?

Among Us?

Fun news this week. Astronaut Helen Sharman, one of the first seven Britons to travel to space, has come out as pro-alien lifeform.

“There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life.  Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not.”

Shades of Carl Sagan’s Contact.  And as if that isn’t spectacular enough, she went on to say”

“It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them.”

This of course brings to mind the scene from Men in Black in which Will Smith says he was sure his third grade teacher was an alien:

Anybody you are sure is an alien?

High Flyers

Today marks the anniversary in 1903 of the first sustained motorized airplane flight by the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, NC. They flew 6.8 miles per hour. Orville was the pilot.  Wilbur ran along side. This is a photo of the 12 second flight.

It amazes me that their three-axis control system  which  allowed the pilot to actually control the plane in flight is still standard on today’s aircraft.

Our plane last month from Minneapolis to New York was pushed along at 600 miles an hour by some strong tail winds. The pilot made a point of proudly announcing this as we arrived well ahead of schedule at LaGuardia airport. I think the Wright brothers would be pretty amazed by that. I don’t know what the would think of the current state of commercial air travel.

How would you change modern air travel?  Be creative.