Category Archives: Science

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.

Physics, Anyone?

Yesterday in 1684, Isaac Newton’s paper on the theory of gravity was read to the Royal Society by Edmund Halley.  I wonder how it was received? Did they nod and say ,“Oh yes, I can see exactly what he is getting at”, or did they scratch their powdered wigs and shrug their shoulders, thinking “Poor Isaac has been spending too much time sitting under the trees.”

Hard sciences were never my strong suit in high school and college. Neither was mathematics. for that matter, although I was  pretty ace at Psychology statistics in graduate school. In college, the Physics majors I knew often said that Physics was a way of investigating God. I was just glad I didn’t have to take any physics classes. Biology, now that was a subject I could embrace.  I don’t know what it means that my poorest grade in college was in bowling,  a physical education class I despised. Maybe if I had taken a Physics class I would have been a better bowler.

What came easily to you in school? What was difficult? What would you like to learn about now?